WOMEN'S HOCKEY: BSU begins season this weekend at Lindenwood
BEMIDJI — As the Bemidji State women’s hockey team readily admitted, it’s unusual for the Beavers to be kicking off their season this early in the year.
But maybe it’s a good omen.
“There’s not snow on the ground this year,” senior defenseman Alex Ehlert said with a laugh Wednesday afternoon. “It’s weird, isn’t it? But that’s the best part.”
Indeed, the Beavers open their 2013-14 campaign this Friday and Saturday at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. The forecast for St. Louis area the weekend calls for 85 and sunny — a far cry from seasons past, where the Beavers would usually open their season in chilly October weather.
Hockey isn’t an outdoor sport, but the sunny outlook for this weekend carries over to the BSU players and coaches for the upcoming season.
Despite going just 6-26-2 overall last season and losing 11 players to graduation and transfer, there’s a feeling that the Beavers’ team chemistry will carry them to a better season.
“This is our year to kinda put Bemidji on the map,” Ehlert said. “All of us are really confident about the season.
“Everybody worked really hard this summer. You could see it on the ice this year when we came back. So we’re excited.”
Ehlert, the team captain, and Allie Duellman, alternate captain, both think that the 18 returners were brought closer during the rough stretches of last season.
“I feel like our team is really close,” Duellman said. “A lot of girls really want this to be the best year of their careers so far. So we feel pretty confident with our abilities to go in and start slowly with nonconference games, work some of the kinks out and be ready to start the conference season in the next couple weeks.”
The Beavers have a month before the Western Collegiate Hockey Association slate begins Oct. 25 — three series and an off weekend.
It should give some of the returning seniors the chance to teach a talented group of incoming freshman the ropes.
Redshirt senior Jessica Havel returns in goal while freshman Brittini Mowat will compete with her for playing time in net. Mowat was named one of the league’s rookie players to watch in the recent WCHA coaches poll.
“Jess is coming back, which is great,” Duellman said. “It’s great to have someone back there that feels comfortable between the pipes.
“And we think Brittini is going to be very good too.”
Defensively, Ehlert and Duellman will anchor the back line along with senior Danielle Williams and junior Kayleigh Chapman.
Life may be hard without Erika Wheelhouse blocking shots in front of the net but Duellman said there are positives.
“Obviously Erika is a huge loss but we have two new freshman D that came in,” she said, referring to Madison Hutchinson and Carley Esse.
“We have some vets still around who have been here for three years who know what to expect,” assistant coach Amber Fryklund said. “We also have a lot of freshman who we expect to play right away, so we think that’s going to help us.”
Up front, the Beavers offense is more of a question mark.
BSU did lose four of its top five goal scorers but return senior Kaitlyn Tougas, who was second on the team overall with seven goals and 14 points.
Also back is redshirt sophomore Whitney Wivoda, who missed almost all of last season with a broken leg.
“We got Whitney back from injury, which is awesome, and we have a few good freshmen coming in,” Fryklund said of the Beavers front line. “Every year you graduate some and players have to step up and fill roles.
“I think the girls are ready. We’ve been going hard for the last couple days. They’ve been working hard this preseason, but we’re ready to play.”
The Beavers will play a Lindenwood team that finished 7-26-3 last season. The Lions, though, have only been an NCAA program for two years. Expect a more improved team with more experience on the ice this season.
“They didn’t have a lot of wins last year but they’ve got some good recruits come in this year,” Fryklund said. “They’ve also got some good transfers that came into the program that played at other places. They’re going to have more experience and they’ll be better this year. It should be a battle.”