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Read receives warm reception: Former Beaver star, newest Wild member returns to Bemidji

Recent Minnesota Wild signee Matt Read signs a hockey stick for Casey Rupp, 13, during a visit to Top Shelf Hockey Shop on Friday in Bemidji. Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI, Minn.—Matt Read returned to his old stomping grounds Friday afternoon, Aug. 31.

The former Bemidji State men's hockey star was back in town signing autographs at Top Shelf Hockey Shop as part of the store's third anniversary celebration.

As the newest member of the Minnesota Wild, Read has already experienced a homecoming of sorts this summer after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the team in July. Though the Ilderton, Ontario, native has called the Twin Cities home each offseason since his 2011 graduation, Read hasn't made it back to Bemidji as much as he'd like.

"I should come up here more often, but I always seem busy during the (Galen Nagle Memorial Golf Tournament) and just haven't had too much time this summer to come up here," Read said. "But it's obviously great to come back here and see some familiar faces, and get back to the community that gave me an opportunity."

Fans young and old toted memorabilia bearing the colors of the Beavers and the Philadelphia Flyers—the team for whom Read spent his first seven NHL seasons—in a line that extended out the store's front door. He even signed for one young Pittsburgh Penguins fan.

Read is thankful for the support of the Beaver fans that have supported him throughout his career.

"They've always been great," Read said. "My four years at school, you see them out in public, there always very welcoming, very nice. It was a privilege to play here at Bemidji."

Two of the most recent Beavers to turn pro, Gerry Fitzgerald and Michael Bitzer, were also on hand to meet fans. Fitzgerald will attend training camp later this month with Read and the Wild as a member of the team's AHL affiliate in Iowa. Bitzer will be between the pipes this season for the Rapid City Rush of the ECHL.

Read's NHL career has provided Beaver players a role model to emulate, BSU assistant coach Travis Winter said.

"It gives them a dream," said Winter, Read's teammate on the 2009 Frozen Four team. "We've got players who dream of playing in the NHL, too. It's good to have him around and show our guys that that dream can become a reality someday if you put in the work and if you stay dedicated."

The former teammates caught up over lunch together before Friday's event.

"It's good to see him have success at the highest level," Winter said. "The biggest thing with Read that sticks out is his character and his work ethic. He's a great guy and he's really earned every opportunity he's gotten."

Read has had a hand in two milestone moments in Beaver history—reaching the Frozen Four, and being with the program when the Sanford Center was christened two seasons later.

Memories like those Read will never forget.

"It was like winning a Stanley Cup for us," Read said recalling the 2009 postseason run. "It was such a special moment. Playing in the new Sanford Center was obviously a great experience being the first team. It was my senior year, being the first class to graduate with that arena. There's a lot of memories."

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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