BEMIDJI (AP) -- R.H. ''Bob'' Peters has become as legendary in college hockey circles as his idols are in intellectual ones.
In 33 seasons as Bemidji State's coach, Peters has won 13 national championships and 733 games, the second-highest victory total in college hockey history. After three decades atop the small-college ranks, the 62-year-old Peters took a leap forward this season when the Beavers moved to NCAA Division I.
Though the team is 9-14-1 overall and 5-6-1 in the new College Hockey America conference, the community and former players have supported the move.
''We have a saying here: 'Tradition never graduates,' '' said Peters, also the athletic director for men's and women's hockey.
''We've built this program through continuity and alumni involvement. Every player who comes through here gives something, and they are never forgotten. The love and loyalty they have for the program will help us move to the next level.''
Peters believed he could build the program quickly because of the pool of players produced in northern Minnesota. He won his first small-college national championship in 1968, his second year on the job, and has only one losing season, 13-15 in 1974-75.
As a small school with a limited athletic budget, Bemidji State competed for 44 seasons in the NAIA and NCAA Division II and III. But when the NCAA eliminated its Division II hockey championship last year, the Beavers were forced to step up to Division I.
Peters helped found the seven-member College Hockey America conference, which began play this season, and a school committee rallied community and alumni support for the move.
The university provided nine hockey scholarships and will eventually give the NCAA limit of 18. Dozens of businesses and individuals gave money to help cover a $317,000 budget, which included increased costs for travel, recruiting, equipment and staff salaries. Former players, who bought their own sticks and skates when they were on the team, wrote generous checks to buy equipment for future Beavers and give the team its own locker room. Local and regional companies bought advertising on the rink boards.
Though much has been accomplished, Peters is focused on the future. He is working on plans to expand and renovate the 2,358-seat John Glas Fieldhouse, and he will continue to raise funds and promote the CHA.
With so much to do, he said he isn't thinking about retirement.
''I took a big chance by coming here, and I feel fortunate and grateful for the success we've had,'' Peters said. ''I want to see it go on. The players we've had, people like (former National Hockey Leaguers) Joel Otto and Jim McElmury and Gary Sargent, you never forget them. They helped build something special here, and we want to see it continue for years to come.''
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.