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Jim Scanlan reflects on challenges, cherished memories after coaching resignation

Apr. 11—A lot has changed since Jim Scanlan took the Bemidji State women's hockey head coaching position in 2014.

The winningest coach in program history stepped down on Monday afternoon after 10 seasons. Scanlan amassed 122 wins, surpassing eight-year bench boss Steve Sertich (81 wins) by a wide margin.

While Scanlan brought the Beavers to unprecedented heights early in his tenure, the ever-changing landscape of the job proved to be taxing in recent years.

"There's been a lot of changes in college hockey with the (transfer) portal," Scanlan said. "It seems like every rule or change that's put into place is for the benefit of bigger schools, power schools. That makes it that much more challenging in Bemidji."

The addition of the transfer portal to collegiate athletics began on Oct. 15, 2018. Three years later, the NCAA permitted student-athletes to transfer to other schools without having to sit out one year. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA granted optional fifth years to student-athletes, which has led to more athletes entering the portal.

Following a 5-30-1 season in 2022-23, BSU lost six women's hockey players to the portal, most of them opting to play for different schools in the WCHA. Bemidji State finished 4-30-2 in Scanlan's final season at the helm.

"You saw it last year," Scanlan said. "When things don't go well, there's an easy out for (players) rather than fighting through adversity to help build something. They can take that avenue and go into the portal. Some programs are really good at utilizing it and making their program stronger. It's a philosophical thing when it comes to how you want to build your program. The challenge seems to get bigger and bigger."

But while the transfer portal is one part of Scanlan's decision to step down, he vaguely noted changes at Bemidji State also played a part.

"The last couple of years haven't been good, and that's on me," Scanlan said. "I'm not dodging it. We just haven't had much success. We're in a business that's success-oriented. But I'll put it this way: When things get tough, you know who's got your back and who doesn't. I've just felt like the last two years I haven't had that support backing. Maybe that's my perception, but that's how I feel."

Bemidji State announced on Tuesday that associate head coach Amber Fryklund would become the school's sixth women's hockey head coach.

"Given her record and her connection with the program, she was a natural (fit for the job)," Scanlan said. "Whether it was now or two years from now, she's a natural to take that job."

Fryklund was re-hired by the Beavers on Aug. 8, 2023. She previously served as an assistant coach for five seasons and associate head coach for four. She left the program following the 2019-20 season to take a teaching position at BSU, serving as an assistant professor of human performance, sport and health.

A week before Fryklund was re-hired, Bemidji State assistant coach Emma Sobieck left the program for an assistant coaching position at Minnesota Duluth. With the coaching personnel changing so late in the offseason, the Beavers were forced to pivot with the 2023-24 season right around the corner.

"(That season) was extremely difficult," Scanlan said. "It was about a year ago at this time that it just became really evident that I wasn't long for the job. We had a coaching change late. It was another tough blow. ... Amber was here. She had left, but we worked together prior to her leaving coaching. It was natural to reach out to her and make that transition as smooth as possible."

Fryklund's hiring served multiple purposes. It not only fulfilled a coaching vacancy but also presented an opportunity for a smooth transition when Scanlan decided to resign.

Scanlan's decision, however, came sooner than he hoped. He said he did not head into the 2023-24 season knowing it was his last.

"Nothing was ever mentioned to the players about a change before or during the season," Scanlan continued. "It was kind of a situation after last spring that we'd see how this year went. I try to take it year by year. ... Winning at this level is euphoric, and losing is devastating. We certainly had a lot more losses, and it wears on you."

Scanlan said he considered his future after every season in recent years.

"When you're at that age when you can retire, I've always said the same thing: I enjoy what I'm doing, and I'm going to take it one year at a time," he explained. "This year, it was really easy to say to the recruits that the next coach was (already) part of the staff and the transition would be really smooth, whenever that time came. Continuity is important for everybody involved."

As burdensome as the past two seasons were for BSU, and with likely more rebuilding pains on the horizon, Scanlan hasn't lost faith in Bemidji State's ability to pull itself out of the bottom of the WCHA. But he also said he's not the right person to discover newfound success.

"Bemidji State has a lot to offer," Scanlan added. "We have a beautiful facility and a campus right on the lake. We always try to sell that, and that's never going to change. All it takes is catching that lighting in a jar, then you can do some special things. You're always going to have a chance, there's no doubt about that."

In his first season as head coach in 2014-15, Scanlan led the Beavers to the program's only WCHA Final Faceoff title game appearance. BSU won 21 games — the most in program history. It was the best season Scanlan had at the helm.

"The success we had, all the credit goes to the players," Scanlan said. "I came into a situation as a new coach with a different voice, and the players bought in. That's what you remember. You remember the relationships you had with the players."

Scanlan can relate to those memories of playing for Bemidji State. He played for the men's hockey team from 1968-72, earning 62 wins in goal under legendary head coach Bob Peters.

He won two NAIA national championships and was later inducted into the Bemidji State Athletic Hall of Fame. During the 2005-06 campaign, Scanlan was also named one of Bemidji State men's hockey's 50 Legends for 50 Years.

So when Scanlan got the call to become a head coach at his alma mater, his answer was a resounding "yes."

"Going back to the very beginning, to come back to your school, it was extremely special," Scanlan said. "I've never taken it for granted. Coaching at this level is special. To do it at the university that you love that's been such a big part of your life was extra special."

Scanlan had coaching stops at East Grand Forks High School, Western Michigan and North Dakota. He also served as the EGF activities director during his time with the Green Wave.

Through all of his coaching experiences, Scanlan's core philosophy was tied to how Peters coached him.

"Playing for him, everything is about family and loyalty, and that's what I tried to (build) with all of the teams that I've coached," he said. "So whenever their careers are done, they'd still have those bonds with their teammates. Ultimately, that was the most important thing. They're not necessarily going to like or remember their coach, but they're going to be teammates for life."

Scanlan hasn't closed the door on coaching again.

"I'm sure if the right opportunity comes I'd take it," he said. "Hockey has been a part of my life for a long time. I can see myself helping out (in different ways). At this time, I'm going to fulfill my role here at the university, and we'll see what happens after that."

Ultimately, Scanlan's love for hockey is undying, even in the sour stretches like the one he's in now.

"It's been my livelihood," Scanlan left off. "It's brought me a lot of joy, and certainly a lot of heartache. I think what's been really special is how my family has been with me throughout my whole journey. My kids have always been there, always been my biggest fans. My grandkids were there fist-pumping on the glass for home games.

"Hockey is something we've all shared together. Some of my closest and best friends came from hockey. Hockey has been good to me."