MEN’S HOCKEY: Bemidji State championship banner finds new home in fan’s garage
Championship banners have an illustrious history in sports. They signify glories gone by, hanging high in the rafters of arenas to tangibly signify past accomplishments and remind all who enter of a team’s greatest triumphs. And sometimes, they wind up in a fan's garage.
Championship banners have an illustrious history in sports.
They signify glories gone by, hanging high in the rafters of arenas to tangibly signify past accomplishments and remind all who enter of a team’s greatest triumphs.
That is, until those arenas are decommissioned, either to be replaced fully or – in the case of the John Glas Fieldhouse – converted for another purpose. After that happens, where do those banners go?
For one lonely Bemidji State men’s hockey banner, the answer is none other than the garage of a Bemidji native and longtime Beaver hockey fan.
“When I first got it, it's big, so I didn't know what to do with it,” said Eric Johannsen, now the proud owner of BSU’s 2008-09 College Hockey America championship banner. “I was living with my sister at that point. My basement already had a whole bunch of sports memorabilia on the wall, and there wasn't really room for it. So it kind of was just sitting there.”
When Johannsen and his wife bought a house in May, the banner graduated to the newlyweds’ Nymore garage and now hangs once again – albeit a little lower than in the Glas. For Johannsen, it’s a life-sized reminder of the best season in Bemidji State’s Division I history.
“It's the year they went to the Frozen Four ,” Johannsen said. “So that was exciting. I remember that year, I skipped track practice to go watch the Frozen Four game. And apparently, a bunch of other people on the (Bemidji High School) track team did too. So our track coach was not happy the next day, especially since they lost. But it's cool, and it was a cool memory (from) the pinnacle of Beaver hockey so far. ”
‘I was glad it found a new home’
The wooden banner measures 48 inches tall, 32 inches wide, is about half an inch thick and weighs around 12 pounds. As sports memorabilia goes, it’s a robust keepsake – not the easiest thing to transport, either.
Johannsen obtained the banner from Conrad Kelly, a curling acquaintance who also has a passion for hockey. Ultimately, Kelly passed it on from his basement after some home renovations.
“I was a season-ticket holder for about 10 years,” Kelly said. “When they moved (to the Sanford Center), they had a silent auction for some of the items from the Glas. I bid on that banner and some of the chairs that used to be on the rail. Surprisingly, I won everything I bid on.
“The banner hung in my family room in my basement for several years. Then we decided to redecorate, and it no longer had a home. I thought it deserved to be somewhere other than storage. I knew Eric was a fan, so I asked him if he wanted it. I was glad it found a new home where it can be appreciated.”
In some ways, the banner serves as a physical embodiment of the years Johannsen has invested in the program as a fan. His family had season tickets to the Glas during his childhood, so he spent hours upon hours inside the legendary hockey haven.
“It was pretty cool,” Johannsen said. “It was a neat, unique arena, because (it had the fans on) just the one side. We like to think that we were a pretty imposing home arena, because as an opposing player, you're coming in and all the fans are right in front of you.”
He was especially dedicated during the dream season of 2008-09.
“We came to every home game, I'm sure,” Johannsen said. “Matt Read was on that team, and he ended up having a pretty good NHL career. Brad Hunt was on that team, and he ended up playing for the Wild too . So that was pretty fun. Matt Read was amazing. That was only his sophomore year, too. He was pretty fun to watch.
“It was definitely a fun year. There was a lot of buzz. We went to the airport when they got back from the Frozen Four, after they had just lost. And obviously, they were pretty bummed, but it was fun to cheer them on even as they came back.”
Cinderella on ice
After claiming the CHA regular-season title, the Beavers defeated Robert Morris at the Glas in a 3-2 overtime triumph that clinched the CHA Tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
That precipitated an improbable run as the lowest overall seed in the tournament, which featured dominant upset wins over top-seeded Notre Dame and third-seeded Cornell in the Midwest Regional. The quarterfinal victory over the Big Red powered Bemidji State to the Frozen Four as the first No. 16 seed to ever reach that hallowed stage.
Bemidji State fell 4-1 to Miami (Ohio) in the national semifinals, finishing a captivating season with a record of 20-16-1.
With their victories in the Midwest Regional, the Beavers ripped off a run that transcended hockey to become something bigger in Bemidji – a collection of moments the city will never forget.
“You maybe were a casual BSU hockey fan or didn't really care, and then all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Yeah, this is a big deal. They're going pretty far,’” Johannsen said. “You definitely want to be a part of something like that.”