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Beavers honor memory of Bob Peters, celebrate ongoing legacy

Beaver greats from all eras filled BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom to capacity, there to celebrate the life and legacy of iconic coach Robert H. “Bob” Peters. Hundreds of his former players, family members, colleagues and fans congregated for a sentimental ceremony befitting a man of such renown.

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An acrylic painting called "Coach Bob Peters" is on display at Peters' celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom. The piece was painted by Marv Espe and finished in July 2001.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State hockey community saluted its architect with one final stick tap on Saturday.

Beaver greats from all eras filled BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom to capacity, there to celebrate the life and legacy of iconic coach Robert H. “Bob” Peters. Hundreds of his former players, family members, colleagues and fans congregated for a sentimental ceremony befitting a man of such renown.

“Beaver hockey, being Division I, being in the Sanford Center, his DNA is all over that stuff,” said Tom Heaviland, a captain on the 1979 national championship team. “There were other people certainly involved, but R. H. was the guy. I couldn’t imagine Bemidji State University without its hockey program, men’s and women’s.”

Peters died on Dec. 15, 2021, at the age of 84. But his coaching career, which spanned from 1966-2001 at BSU, was packed with some unparalleled accomplishments.

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The Beavers lift up head coach Bob Peters after his final game on March 3, 2001, a 6-3 loss to North Dakota inside the John Glas Fieldhouse at BSU.
BSU photo

He won 13 national championships and 744 games, including an NCAA-record 42 straight victories from 1983-85. He was the first coach to win 700 games at a single institution, and he’s the only coach to lead teams to the final four at the NAIA, NCAA Division III, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division I levels.

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Peters later served as Bemidji State’s athletic director and helped bring women’s hockey to campus, and his 34-season tenure with the Beavers included navigation from an outdoor-playing NAIA team to a national power in D-II and D-III to one of the most historic and prominent programs in D-I.

“With how many people came back here today, it’s a testament to the legacy he built,” said Joel Otto, a 1984 national champion who also won a Stanley Cup during a prolific 14-year NHL career. “He demanded a lot, and it made guys better people. Not just in hockey, but life in general.”

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Bemidji State alum and NHL great Joel Otto chats with an attendee during Bob Peters' celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

A central theme of Saturday’s ceremony was how hard Peters made his players work, whether it be in conditioning or in the classroom. They may have hated it at the time, but looking back, instilling that kind of work ethic served a greater purpose.

“His influence, I didn’t really realize it when you’re in the midst of it,” Heaviland said. “Then you realize the profoundness that this guy had on your life. It’s amazing.”

“‘Tradition never graduates’ is something that resonates with all the boys here and all the guys who have played under him,” Otto added. “He taught us work ethic, he taught us leadership, he taught us how to become men.”

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Steve Peters, son of the late Bob Peters, speaks during Bob's celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Saturday’s program featured speeches from Peters’ children, Barb and Steve, as well as former players Thomas Waldhauser (1972-76) and Jamie Erb (1989-93), plus former Bemidji State president and friend James Bensen. Brian Schultz, the longtime voice of Beaver hockey as a play-by-play broadcaster for the Beaver Radio Network, served as emcee.

Peters’ memorabilia adorned a stage that could hardly hold such a collection, the kind that only piles up after multiple decades on the job.

“A lot of people haven’t heard of Bemidji, right?” Heaviland said. “But now you’re proud to (claim) it because this program has so much history and tradition with the championships and the players and everything else. Getting to a Frozen Four, what they did by making the tournament and beating Wisconsin a couple years ago -- Bemidji’s got a great program.”

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Lou Peters, right, wife of the late Bob Peters, listens to a speaker during Bob's celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Peters once reflected on his run for a 2013 story in the Pioneer. He summarized his relationship with hockey in a particularly eloquent way:

“Hockey is a simple game,” he said. “Play the game because you love it and love the game because you play it. That’s the real answer to success. When people bring their heads and hearts to the rink and to the classroom, they become an outstanding team that is capable of great success.”

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Attendees clap for a speaker during Bob Peters' celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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A case of pucks noting milestones from Bob Peters' tenure is on display at Peters' celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Emcee Brian Schultz speaks during Bob Peters' celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at the Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: BEMIDJI STATE BEAVERS
Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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