BEMIDJI -- A new fall high school girls hockey league has filled the gap for Bemidji players this month.
Bemidji is one of 54 teams statewide that will suit up for the Xtended Prep League this fall, a league established in response to the Minnesota State High School League’s decision to shorten the 2020-21 season to 18 games as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The 30% reduction to the hockey schedule means teams will play about seven games fewer than usual.
The Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association acted quickly to organize a new league, sanctioned by USA Hockey, that will offer playing opportunities before high school practices begin Nov. 30. The league will follow health rules put in place by the Minnesota Department of Health, USA Hockey and arenas.
“(The MGHCA) jumped on the ball right away,” said Joe Prokop, who will coach Bemidji alongside Jeremy Fayette. “The amount of girls that have signed up and the amount of games is pretty amazing how we got all this put together that quick.”
Teams will play up to 10 games each against regional opponents. The puck dropped on league play last week for some teams.
Bemidji will open its nine-game season this weekend in Moorhead with a pair of games against Moorhead Orange and White on Saturday, Nov. 7, followed by a matchup with Crookston on Sunday, Nov. 8. The team will then travel to Roseau and Thief River Falls for three games apiece over the subsequent two weekends.
The Bemidji roster is made up of 21 players who will soon lace up their skates for Bemidji High School this winter, including standouts such as goalie Nettie Kimble, and defensemen Lexi Leitner and Chloe Hasbargen.
“It’s good to see that we’re well represented. We have a lot of girls that want to participate and get some reps in before the regular season,” Prokop said.
Lumberjacks head coach Mike Johnson won’t be behind the bench for the XPL team due to MSHSL rules regarding offseason contact. Prokop and Fayette have coached many of the team’s players over the years, so there’s no lack of familiarity with the group.
“I’ve actually coached, I believe, nine of them through the years,” said Prokop, who also officiates at the high school and youth levels. “I’ve seen these girls throughout their careers. They know who I am from being a ref and being the guy dropping the puck, or, unfortunately, calling a penalty now and again.”
Games will be played in two 25-minute halves. The hope is XPL players will have additional opportunities to fine-tune their skills before the shortened high school season begins next month.
“Anytime you get more ice time, more reps and more time to participate in games, you’re going to get more skilled,” Prokop said. “You’ll get more development and more experience. … It’s not going to be so much pressure as a regular hockey season with the high school league. It might be a bit more laid back.”
Nov. 7 Moorhead Orange* 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 7 Moorhead White* 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 Crookston* 9 a.m.
Nov. 14 Crookston^ 10:45 a.m.
Nov. 14 Moorhead Orange^ 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 Moorhead White^ 10:45 a.m.
Nov. 20 Roseau# 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 Crookston# 10 a.m.
Nov. 21 Moorhead Orange# 4 p.m.
* at Moorhead
^ at Roseau
# at Thief River Falls