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Bemidji State winger Whitney Wivoda (11) scored her first goal of the season against North Dakota in October. Wivoda has rallied from an injury that kept her out of the lineup for most of last season. She has two goals and two assists so far this year. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Wivoda bouncing back from injury

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BEMIDJI -- It took time, but Whitney Wivoda is finally finding her groove on the ice again.

The BSU redshirt sophomore scored her second goal of the season in Friday's game against North Dakota -- the first goal in a frenetic third period that saw the Beavers score three times and rally for the tie in Grand Forks.

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With four points on the season -- two goals and a pair of assists -- the numbers might not show it, but Wivoda feels like her old self again after missing most of 2012-13 with a knee injury.

"Last season was rough," the BSU winger said. "I only played in five games then the injury happened.... the most frustrating thing was I was scoring a bit and getting some points. I wasn't able to contribute to the team."

Now, she said, it can still be frustrating to look at her point totals and feel as though she's not contributing. But BSU head coach Steve Sertich said Wivoda has been impressive lately.

"Any time you have a knee injury it takes time," Sertich said. "Mentally she's over that hump now and I think she's been playing on a pretty high level."

Alaska tough

Wivoda credits her Fairbanks, Alaska, upbringing to persevering through a rough season of rehab and recovery.

After all, she's already got a built in handicap -- a heart condition that requires a pacemaker -- and already suffered an injury while playing in high school that sidelined her for six months.

For a female hockey player in Alaska -- a state without a Division I women's college program anywhere near -- moving on to the next level can be difficult unless a player wants to leave the state.

Wivoda, unlike many players who leave early for prep school at young ages, stuck around.

"My family always just believed in supporting your hometown team and developing your players there," she said. "How is your team going to get any better in your hometown if the good players leave? I'm kind of proud of the fact that I was able to stay home."

She played for the Alaska Icebreakers girls' hockey program for six years and also skated with the Anchorage-based Team Alaska under age-19 girls competitive program.

In 2009-10,. she skated for the Lathrop High School boys hockey team in her hometown, helping the Malemutes win a conference title and finish third in the state tournament.

Wivoda eventually left the state for her senior season to live with family in Hibbing and play for the Grand Rapids-based Minnesota Crunch U-19 AAA competitive program.

But her pride for her home state remains strong.

"I think staying home for most of my career was a good choice," she said. "My parents always believed if you're good enough and work hard, you'll make it."

Improved consistency

This season, Wivoda said she's been working on improving her shooting game. She's always been good at setting up teammates but said the BSU coaching staff has been encouraging her to shoot a little more.

"I think the kind of player I've always been is a passing, setting-up-my-teammates player," she said. "I don't think that's changed. But I've definitely learned to shoot more. That's one thing my coaches always got mad at me about.... they always told me to go to the net, be greedy. I've gotten a little better about going to the net and taking shots."

It helps this season that she's been playing consistently on one line. The line of Wivoda, center Tess Dusik and right wing Kristine Grenier has combined for 11 goals and nine assists.

"This is the first time we've really kept the lines together almost the whole year," she said. "It's nice. You get to know a linemate pretty well.You know their tendencies, know where they're going to be even when they're not calling for the puck. That helps a whole lot."

Sertich said he expects more Wivoda and the rest of her line as the season draws to a close.

"That line is close to breaking loose," he said. "Whitney is a skilled player. She's also been getting good looks on the power play and is one of our shootout specialists. She has some skill, has some ability to get us on the board. I hope she can build on what she did this past weekend."

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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.
(218) 333-9772
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