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Bemidji State’s Natasha Kostenko controls the puck behind the opposing net in a game against St. Cloud State earlier this season at the Sanford Center. Kostenko, a sophomore, scored in last weekend’s series in St. Cloud and leads the Beavers with six goals on the year. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer File

WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Beavers return home on high, still jockeying for playoff position

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BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State women’s hockey team broke its losing streak in entertaining fashion last weekend, outplaying St. Cloud State in a 2-0 win – the second shutout of the season for BSU and the first win by more than a goal this year.

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Now the Beavers (4-14-2, 3-12-1 WCHA) return to the Sanford Center for a weekend series against Minnesota State Mankato (8-11-3, 4-9-3 WCHA) confident that they can get something going in the season’s second half. Faceoff is set for 7:07 p.m. tonight and the teams will return to the ice Saturday afternoon at 4:07 p.m.

The Beavers recognize that their job now is to play spoiler and maybe score an upset or two in the WCHA tournament.

‘The goal is to climb back up in the standings, get back towards the middle of the pack in the WCHA,” said BSU junior defenseman Allie Duellman, who scored the game-winning goal against St. Cloud State last Saturday – her first of the season and her first since October 2010.

“We want to have a good chance in the first round be a playoff upset team and make some noise.”

The Beavers appeared energized after their long holiday break, scoring four goals in the two-game series and – save a breakdown late in the third period of Friday’s game – could have swept the Huskies on their home ice.

“I was really pleased with how well we played, how hard we played in St. Cloud,” BSU head coach Steve Sertich said. “That was one of my personal goals, is that we played hard for 60 minutes both nights. We were disappointed that we let one slip away in the first game, but the next one, a 2-0 win on the road, was pretty good. So we’re happy to build off that.”

Last weekend the Beavers saw two strong goaltending performances – Abby Ryplanski took the loss in her return from ankle injury but made 24 saves while Jess Havel earned the shutout victory Saturday, the first of her career.

Havel was named the WCHA’s defensive player of the week for her effort in net.

“Our goaltending was very strong,” Sertich said. “It was nice to have Abby back, and we wish we could have held that lead for her.

“And Havel was comfortable in net. She was calm, comfortable and didn’t panic.”

Against Minnesota State the Beavers will need some strong play in goal and a balanced scoring attack like they had in St. Cloud.

Four different BSU players – Duellman, Natasha Kostenko, Kristin Huber and Emily Erickson – scored against the Huskies.

“I think we’re all just goal hungry,” said Kostenko, a sophomore from Fannystelle, Manitoba, who leads the Beavers with 6 goals. She said the fact that so many underclassmen have been contributing to the offense this season has helped them when they’ve been able to get into the scoring column.

“We just want to help ourselves, show them that we can be just as good as the seniors, and that we want to help the team.”

Freshman Kaitlin Tougas has eight points for BSU, Megan Lushanko five and Ivana Bilic three.

The Beavers were dealt a blow when they lost Huber – a sophomore – and Hannah Moher – a freshman – to injury last weekend.

Huber, who scored points in both St. Cloud games and had seven this season, will be out for the season with an unspecified injury. Moher, a freshman, will miss four weeks with an upper-body injury.

“That’s disappointing, because those were two kids I thought were producing some offense for us here recently,” Sertich said. “It’s nice to have kids come in and do that in their first or second year. It’s great when everybody contributes.”

BSU and MSU split their series in Mankato earlier this season. The Beavers see a lot of similarities between themselves and the Mavericks. BSU won the first game of the series 4-3 before falling in the second 4-1 back in November.

“Mankato is kind of like us,” Kostenko said. “We’re very equal, I think, and they’re nitty-gritty kind of team just like we are. We’re just going to have to do the little things better than them.

“Everybody’s got to be on their A game. That’s been a key to our success this year. Everybody contributes, everybody wins.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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