'This is our reality': BSU women's hockey navigates transfer portal era with new perspective
The transfer portal gives and takes from various collegiate programs. For the Bemidji State women's hockey team, this spring has been a lot of taking as the Beavers navigate a roster overhaul.
Collegiate sports are firmly in the transfer-portal era, and it’s a sink-or-swim time of year for programs nationwide.
The transfer portal gives and takes. Right now, it’s taking more than it’s giving from the Bemidji State Women’s hockey team. As of Tuesday, April 4, six Beavers opted to find new teams to finish their post-secondary careers.
“Unfortunately, this is our reality. This is the world we live in now. It’s definitely a challenging situation,” BSU head coach Jim Scanlan said.
Reece Hunt entered the portal on Jan. 31 with one year of eligibility remaining. On March 22, sophomore defensemen Ella Anick and Taylor Larson threw their names into the ring. Sophomore forward Claire Vekich followed, then junior goaltender Hannah Hogenson and sophomore defenseman Adriana Van De Leest joined their teammates in the search for new homes.
The frustrations that boil over from Bemidji State’s 5-30-1 season might be a reason for a player to test the waters. Yet, for better or worse, the portal comes for all teams eventually. Ohio State played for a National Championship on March 19, only to lose five depth players to the portal.
St. Cloud State took one of the biggest hits among Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams, losing seven players with eligibility remaining.
“It’s their right,” Scanlan said of the players entering the portal. “It’s disappointing, but I respect their decision. I wish them the best of luck going forward. Our focus is on the future. We have a group of six incoming players. We’ve certainly reached out to players in the portal. There are spots we need to fill, and we’re working hard to do that.”
Unlike the men’s game, opportunities past the collegiate level aren’t as available for women’s hockey players. The COVID-19 pandemic also granted an extra year of eligibility for students impacted during the 2020-21 season. Even though Hogenson is a junior, she can still play for two more years at the college level.
“COVID changed everything when players were given those extra years,” Scanlan said. “I think a lot of the initial transfers were fifth-year players looking for an opportunity to play. In the women’s game, there’s no pro hockey. There’s not a minor league system to go to. For them to get another year to play, they’re thinking, ‘Why not?' We’re still seeing that. There’s one more year of that with our current juniors who are going to be seniors.”
Scanlan has had tough conversations with players looking to leave his team. While the process begins for him and his coaching staff at that moment, it starts much earlier for the player. Despite his wishes for them to stay, he’s not in the convincing business.
“If a player comes to us and says they’re transferring, they’ve given it a lot of thought and consideration,” he said. “They’ve had those conversations, especially with their parents. We’re not going to try to talk them out of it. We just want to wish them the best of luck and respect their decision.”
Players intending to transfer enter the portal through the compliance office. The online database is not open to the public. Each program gets a login to see which players are available to enter for a 60-day window starting the Monday following the NCAA tournament selection show.
The Rink Live keeps a running list of players who enter the portal in men’s and women’s hockey around the country.
“You’re always keeping an eye on the portal,” Scanlan said. “When the portal came into effect, it was new to all of us. You’re given a password to get onto the portal, and all of a sudden, you hear of these players popping up that are looking to move schools. You check it every day.
"Every team has their needs. Every team has their wants. You’re just going to look at players based on what you’re looking for based on your needs.”
The Beavers are treading water. Even though they lost six players they hoped to bring back, and two more graduating seniors, the door opens for new faces to make an impact at the Division I level.
“Anytime there are spots open and roles open, there are opportunities for returning players and incoming players,” Scanlan said. “That’s kind of always been the message. … In college athletics, you’re always going to have that cycle. You have kids graduate, and you bring in new groups. With the portal, you can see that turnover be more than you originally planned than just your senior class. That’s for all sports. That’s not just a hockey thing.”