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Bemidji State women's hockey: Seniors savor success after tough years and some new found respect

Bemidji State seniors (from left) Franny Dorr, Nicole Rawlings and Jackie Robertson are savoring BSU's first trip to the WCHA Final Face-Off in school history. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Franny Dorr, Nicole Rawlings and Jackie Robertson have endured the pain of perpetual losing during their time playing for the Bemidji State women's hockey team.

Until this year.

Bemidji State is playing playoff hockey into March for the first time in school history and continue postseason play Saturday at the WCHA Final Face-Off tournament in Minneapolis as one of the four semifinal teams left standing in the WCHA playoffs.

"Surprised to see us here, aren't you?" Robertson said with a wide smile while taking a short break from Thursday's afternoon practice. "Maybe other people out there would be surprised where we are but not us. Our goal has to always get to where we are at now."

No doubt the Beavers surprised the league this season after the team was unanimously picked to finish last in the WCHA preseason coaches poll.

Now, they head to Ridder Arena to face nationally No. 2-ranked Minnesota-Duluth at 12:07 p.m. Saturday for the right to face the Minnesota-Ohio State semifinal winner in the championship. The Final Face-Off champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Tournament.

Bemidji State goes to the tournament with awards in tow after head coach Steve Sertich was named the WCHA Coach of the Year and goalie Zuzana Tomcikova was named WCHA Co-Player of the Year on Thursday.

The three BSU seniors have endured losing winters through the rebuilding process under Sertich, including last year's six-win season under the team's motto 'one step at a time.'

But the trio has remained committed to the program and the game for the chance to taste success this season.

"What's different for us is that we're just a big family," Rawlings said of this year's team.

The Beavers are 12-18-7 overall and 9-12-7-3 in the WCHA this season under the team's new motto: 'one more step.' The win total is the most by BSU since 2006 when the Beavers finished 11-20-5 overall.

In the junior and sophomore seasons for the current seniors, the Beavers were a combined 15-49 overall. Last season the Beavers had a mere three wins in the ultra-competitve WCHA, where Olympians are scattered across the league's rosters.

Bemidji State overcame playoff adversity last weekend to keep the season alive. After an opening loss to St. Cloud State in the first game of the best-of-three series last Friday, the Beavers rallied to win the second game 2-1 and the third game 4-1 to advance to the Final Face-Off.

It was only the second time in the history of the women's WCHA that a team has overcome a 1-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs.

"We just found an energy," Dorr said. "It was like an energy we've never had before and we just played well every single period on Friday and Saturday."

Robertson credits BSU's resurgent season to an influx of new players over the last few seasons.

There were eight freshmen that joined the team last season, including the Slovakian star in Tomcikova.

She rejoined BSU last weekend after starting in the Vancouver Olympics. Tomcikova faced 199 shots in five losses at Vancouver, but was graceful in defeat under the media spotlight as a steadfast supporter of the developing women's game outside North America.

There are nine freshmen on the team this season, so the future looks bright.

"There has just been a big attitude shift for us this year," Dorr said. "It's almost like before this season, we were just trying to get through the games and it was tough. We haven't had much respect here at BSU. Now I think we've got some."

BSU has earned that respect the hard way and there were signs of improvement this year before last weekend's series win.

In the opening weekend of WCHA play last October, BSU defeated defending national champion Wisconsin for the second time in program history.

In December, BSU defeated Minnesota-Duluth in the shootout to end a 34-game losing streak against the Bulldogs and it marked the second time in school history the Beavers were able to get a point out of the perennial national power.

Last month, the Beavers took the Gophers to back-to-back shootouts in a series at John Glas Fieldhouse.

Bemidji State will be tested against Minnesota-Duluth, a team the Beavers have never defeated in regulation and a team that has won 16 of its last 17 games.

"What's good for us is that it is just one game. One game. Anything can happen," Rawlings said.

Robertson said BSU's defense must play well and the team must bring the same 60-minute effort given last weekend to defeat the Bulldogs.

"I think this year we just believe in ourselves a lot more," Robertson said. "We're having a blast right now."