The Bismarck High School Boys Hockey team just finished with a 1-21 season.

YIKES.  You have to feel for those kids, parents, coaches, and everyone involved.  I also have to give those players credit for sticking with it and finishing out the season.  As somebody who has coached just about every sport at the youth level, I can't even imagine.

At least part of this unprecedented collapse of this longtime hockey powerhouse is directly related to dwindling numbers within the program.  More on that in a moment.

Demon hockey is a proud tradition.  Bismarck High and Minot High remain the only teams from the West Region or WDA to ever win a North Dakota State hockey championship.

The WDA Boys Hockey Tournament will begin today at VFW in Bismarck without a very familiar team in the mix.  Yep, the Bismarck High Demons.  They failed to make the tournament after losing their WDA play-in game on Monday night against the only team they beat this season Williston.

I'm sure there will be plenty of chatter in the hallways of the VFW this weekend concerning Bismarck High hockey.

Let me first disclose, I'm a former proud parent of a Bismarck High Demon hockey player.  Not too far removed either, as my son skated for Bismarck High from 2019 to 2022.

Rick Rider
Rick Rider

During those 3 years, Bismarck High Boys Hockey was very competitive in the West Region.  Finishing 2nd in the West Region tournament in 2019 and getting the #2 seed from the West in the state tournament.  The next two seasons would see back-to-back State Tournament play in-game losses at the WDA Tournament keeping the Demons from the state tournament.  Still competitive seasons.

Rick Rider/Kerry Ring Photography
Rick Rider/Kerry Ring Photography

However, the last two seasons for Demon hockey have been pretty rough.

This season's 1-21 record is believed to be the worst record Bismarck High has ever had in hockey.  I bring this up not to pour salt into a fresh wound, but instead, to take a look at how the Demons may have fallen into this position.

Is this just a case of fluctuation that often happens with high school sports?  You have good years, bad years, and variations.  Maybe, but there does seem to be a growing problem.

During our time in the Demon hockey program, there was a big concern over future numbers coming up in the program.  The city is growing north, and a good share of Bismarck High's students come from lower-income homes in the city on the Southend.

For those of you who don't know, hockey is an extremely expensive sport to play (especially at the youth level).  Because of this, Bismarck High is at a distinct disadvantage.

What can be done about the numbers and trying to increase them for the Bismarck High program?  

Two things came to mind when these concerns were being discussed during our time with BHS and being a part of the Demon Hockey Boosters.  Move the lines further north to try to balance out the increased number of people moving to the north end of town.

Rick Rider
Rick Rider

Either that, go to open enrollment at the high school level.  This is something that is done in Grand Forks, where we came from, (my son went to Grand Forks Central his Freshman year), and it works very well for keeping the numbers balanced.

The parents of Bismarck High tried to set up meetings with the Athletic Director of Bismarck Public Schools (Dave Zittleman) to discuss these options.  Numerous emails were exchanged trying to arrange these meetings.  I can tell you that these meetings never happened with the Athletic Director in my 3 years with the program.

Instead, the parents of Bismarck High could only manage a meeting or two with the Activities Director of Bismarck High (Scott Nustad).  I still remember presenting the idea of open enrollment and how it works in Grand Forks.  His dismissive answer back to me was. "What does Grand Forks have besides hockey?"

I don't know, the meeting was about hockey, but I bit my tongue.  Nustad has since retired from Bismarck Public Schools.

Where does Bismarck High Hockey go from here?

Bismarck High had only 26 skaters in its program this season and two goalies.  Certainly a big reason for the 1-21 record.  Barely enough numbers to field a JV team.  In fact, at least a couple of JV games were canceled this year because of injuries and not enough players to play.  At least one game this year, the entire varsity team was also the JV team.  Not a recipe for success.

Before Legacy got their own team back in 2021-22 they were a co-op with Bismarck High.  Now, with Bismarck High's hockey numbers continuing to fall, could we be heading back to that very same situation?  Many believe this could be true.  It may even happen sooner than later.

Hopefully, it won't come to that and a solution will be found.  Bismarck High's Boys Hockey program deserves better.

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Gallery Credit: Sophia Crisafulli

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