Thunderbirds vs. Lumberjacks, mythical feud

The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks score a goal on the Bemidji Lumberjacks during a regular season game. PHOTO: K. Makinen, via GR Hockey.

The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks score a goal on the Bemidji Lumberjacks during a regular season game. PHOTO: K. Makinen, via GR Hockey webpage.

Tonight at 8 p.m., the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks will play the Bemidji Lumberjacks in the Minnesota Class AA State Hockey Tournament in St. Paul.

Hockey is a big deal in Minnesota. It’s a cherished winter tradition and the source of a historic rivalry between the Northern and Southern portions of the state. (Or perhaps more accurately: “Da Twin Cities” versus “Pretty much e’rywhere ‘dat isn’t da Twin Cities, even Rochester if it comes to that).

But here in the first round, two of the best Northern teams are pitted against one another. Grand Rapids vs. Bemidji. Brother against Brother. A civil war out on Highway 2.

The winner goes on to face the metro teams with the goodwill of half the state. The loser goes into the consolation bracket. There they might also play metro teams, but probably their dad decides to go back to work on Friday because, jeez, you know, it’s pretty busy and it’s not quite the same deal.

Now, Bemidji and Grand Rapids play each other fairly often, but have only met once in the state tournament — one of the years Grand Rapids went on to win state in 1972. While they are rivals, they are no more so than most competitive teams on the Minnesota high school scene.

But both teams have mascots with deep connections to Northern Minnesota.

Bemidji’s is the Lumberjack, named for the gritty men who fanned their sawblades across the Northern forests of the 1800s. These men worked the woods, cutting dawn to dusk, living 50 men to a lodge in a subzero boreal forest.


Bemidji is known for a particular mythical lumberjack.

4ed93eac3ba44.preview-300Grand Rapids’ mascot is the Thunderhawk, a mythical bird of local Ojibwa lore, a massive raptor that brings thunderclaps with each stroke of its mighty wings.

Some version of the Thunderbird is part of nearly every North American indigenous history. The story is so pervasive it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t rooted in some form of fact. Some of the descriptions that have been handed down make the Thunderbird sound like a pterodactyl. Is it possible that some ancient flying beast survived beyond the last Ice Age?

The Thunderbird myth states that these birds ride with the storm clouds, in some tales they are the storm clouds. It could be that big raptors like eagles often ride the air disturbances of storm systems to climb to high altitude with little energy expended.

Rugged men, mythical birds. Who will win?


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