For some fans, the Bemidji State broadcast would be viewed later on tape. For others, the thought would never arise to record a hockey game, even one as important as the school’s first Division I NCAA tournament appearance.
There were funerals to attend. There was grief to express, comfort to provide, horrors to exorcise.
Five days earlier, a shooting in Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota had left nine dead and five wounded. A student at Red Lake High School, after killing members of his own family, opened fire on random targets at the school before taking his own life. The toll included five students, a teacher and a security guard.
The Bemidji region includes the Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake Indian Reservations, and the university counts 150 Native Americans among its student body. School publications which refer to its multicultural heritage list American Indian influences before those of European and Canadian origin.
As a result, the shootings hit close to home as the Beavers prepared for their first NCAA appearance since moving to Division I in 1999. To pay tribute to those whose lives were taken, “RL” stickers were affixed to Bemidji’s helmets.
“Hockey seems so small when you factor in that horrific incident,” BSU coach Tom Serratore said. “Games come and go and after [time passes] they don’t mean a lot. Something like this tragedy is going to affect our area for a long time. In the grand scheme of things, this game isn’t a big deal.”
On the ice, the Beavers faced stiff odds, going against the number-two overall seed and defending national champion Denver Pioneers. None of which compared to the overwhelming odds faced by some members of Red Lake Nation as they struggled to hold their lives together following the shootings.
Shane Holman vied to be a hero in this game, scoring just 1:20 into the first period to give Bemidji hopes of an upset.
But doesn’t the heroism of a goalscorer border on absurdity when compared to that of Derrick Brun, the security guard who allowed 20 Red Lake students to escape to safety by distracting the gunman, an act which cost Brun his life?
“This is nothing,” Holman said. “This doesn’t compare at all. This is just a game compared to what [those families] are going through in real life. This means absolutely nothing compared to that.”
Viewed through the Big Picture lens of life-and-death, athletic events don’t hold up well. Bemidji State would eventually lose a heartbreaker at 3:26 of overtime, but such a loss pales in comparison to the losses of the families affected by the Red Lake shooting.
“Sports are sports,” Luke Erickson said. “Any time there’s a [tragedy] it puts it into perspective. You play hockey for the love and passion of the game. There will be more games for us next year and, for the seniors, hopefully they’ll move on and have a great career whatever they do.
“But for the families who lost their loved ones, you can’t replace that. Overall, this is just a game.”
After all, how can you compare a team’s penalty killers looking to make it through the next two minutes of an opponent’s power play with parents who have just lost their sons and daughters? Those haunted mothers and fathers are just looking to make it through the next two minutes, and then the two minutes after that and then the two minutes after that. All the while not sure that they really want to.
The answer is that you can’t compare the two. But the answer is also that precious few pursuits hold up under the Big Picture lens of life-and-death.
Wins and losses can be important even at the same time that they aren’t, in the cosmic sense, Important.
Games give us happiness and excitement. They involve sacrificing for a common goal and pursuing excellence. And as Erickson put it, “You play hockey for the love and passion of the game.” The same holds true for fans, coaches and even some of those in the media.
Cosmic questions aside, love and passion are more than enough.
Thanks to Jayson Moy for his assistance.