Payton Weidemann, Ava Myhre backstop Jacks as a premier Section 8AA goalie duo

Feb. 2—The first Bemidji High School girls hockey home playoff game since 2015 didn't go according to plan a year ago.

Payton Weidemann, a junior then, had started 11 of the Lumberjacks' first 16 games in goal. She amassed a .923 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average with a record of 7-4-3. She was supposed to start the first BHS home playoff game in eight years.

That was, until she made a trip to the doctor.

"I hurt my back," Weidemann said. "I had a stress fracture in my back, and I still have it. It's a little better now. My back had been hurting for three years. It got to a point where I had to go to the doctor to get it checked out. I got an MRI, which told me about the stress fracture. I was told I needed to take a few months off to regain strength."

In stepped Ava Myhre, a sophomore. Primarily serving as the starting goalie for the junior varsity team, Myhre had to grow up quickly.

"It was exciting, but it was also tough because my goalie partner was hurt," Myhre said. "When we first found out, it was about an hour before a game. That was stressful. It was a lot to take in. There was pressure. Payton played most of the season, and she had done a great job. I felt like I had to play up to that standard."

Myrhe held her own in the net during her 10th-grade season. She posted a record of 6-5-1 with a .881 save percentage and a 3.17 goals-against average. Having Weidemann on the bench, even in street clothes, gave her a shoulder to lean on.

"She was really supportive," Myhre said. "She was on the bench every game. Whether we were losing or if it was a tight game, she helped me stay out of my own head. It's given me more confidence. Knowing I have a partner who's similar in age and I get along with has helped a lot. We support each other, even if we're watching the other play."

The Jacks fell 6-4 against fifth-seeded Brainerd/Little Falls in the quarterfinal round of the Section 8AA Tournament a year ago. Barring another injury, Myhre will have to wait until after Weidemann graduates to get another crack at winning a playoff game.

But even with a senior in front of her, Myhre has played her fair share of games. In a backup role, she's started eight contests (6-2-0) for Bemidji, posting a .904 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average. Weidemann has played the other 16 before the final game of the regular season. She holds a record of 9-7-0 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average.

Together, Weidemann and Myhre boast the section's fourth-best save percentage (.911) and third-best goals-against average (2.24). Alexandria and Roseau are the only other 8AA teams to have two goalies start eight or more games, according to MN Girls Hockey Hub.

What separates Weidemann and Myhre is the lack of goalie depth behind them. They are Bemidji's only two rostered goalies, which means if one plays the varsity game, the other plays JV.

"Ava and I are really close," Weidemann said. "We're always there for each other. If we get scored on, whether it's a JV or a varsity game, we're always there. I've asked Ava what I've done wrong on some plays, and she'll give me an answer. She does the same with me. The two-goalie thing works well for us."

Myhre moved to Bemidji from Aberdeen, S.D., in middle school.

"I have a lot of family here," Myhre continued. "My mom grew up here, and there are more opportunities here for hockey and a lot of things. I'm happy to be playing here. At first, I wasn't sure about it, but it's the best thing that could've happened to me."

She went from being the only goalie her age to stepping into a situation with Weidemann a year ahead of her. It's been a learning process, one that was expedited by Weidemann's stress fracture last winter.

"I feel like I've grown a lot this year, especially since I've gotten older and more mature," Myhre said. "I focus a lot more on hockey now than I did before. I want to be better for myself and for the team. The experience last year in getting to play more varsity at a younger age has helped me so much this year."

Weidemann sees it, too.

"She has a lot more confidence now," Weidemann added. "If she gets scored on, she doesn't let it get to her. She keeps trying harder and doesn't give up. It used to get to her sometimes, but she's grown out of that. She's grown as a goalie and a person."

The goaltender position only allows one to be on the ice at a time. Between the two of them, there's a level of competitiveness that's ultimately overshadowed by their yearning for team success.

"Coming here, Payton was only a year older than me, so it's been a friendly competition," Myhre said. "We've never fought. We've always gotten along really well, and we push each other."

The fight for playing time has a shelf life. Weidemann's hockey career will end following the conclusion of the Lumberjacks' postseason run, which starts next week.

The finality of Weidemann's life as a goalie is starting to set in.

"It's definitely hitting me now," Weidemann said. I'm excited for the future and whatever it has planned for me, but I've played hockey my whole life, so it's going to be weird not playing every day anymore after this season.

"I started playing goalie when I was 8 years old. I tried it, and I really loved it. Our 10U team didn't have a goalie, so I became the 8 year old playing with the big girls, or at least that's what it felt like to me. I just fell in love with it. The adrenaline you get when you back up your team is something you have to love."

Before the season, Weidemann was voted as the Jacks' team captain, an honor rarely bestowed upon goalies. However, in this case, the choice was clear. BHS has only four seniors, with even fewer having played a more prominent role in the team's success than Weidemann.

"It's my job to be a role model for the younger girls," Weidemann said. "I just really want to show up to practice every day and work my hardest. I want to lead by example. When they have questions, or when they need (me), I want to be there for my teammates."

Last season was likely Weidemann's only chance at playing a Section 8AA playoff game at the Bemidji Community Arena. As it stands, the Lumberjacks will slot into the fifth seed, barring an unforeseen vote among the rest of the section's coaches. But having to make a playoff run exclusively on the road isn't deterring Weidemann's confidence in the Jacks to pull off some seeding upsets.

"I don't let the pressure get to me because I know I can stop pucks," Weidemann said. "At this point, I've stopped pucks for 10 years. Ava helps my nerves when they come because she's there to back me up. We do what we can to not let the nerves get to us."