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WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Beavers look to close gap with WCHA’s top teams as Buckeyes return

One season after Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State and Wisconsin simultaneously occupied the top four spots in the DCU/USCHO Division I Women’s Hockey Poll, those four squads all currently rank in the top five.

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The Beavers celebrate after Paige Beebe (18) scored an empty-net goal to defeat No. 2 Ohio State 3-2 on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – Competing in the WCHA is not for the faint of heart.

The league features a number of top-tier teams every season, and this year is no different. One season after Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State and Wisconsin simultaneously occupied the top four spots in the DCU/USCHO Division I Women’s Hockey Poll, those four squads all currently rank in the top five.

So what’s a group like the Bemidji State women’s hockey team to do? Skate onward the best way they know how.

“What college hockey’s become with all the new rules, it's definitely created a bigger and bigger gap with the Power Five schools that play Division I hockey than the rest of us,” BSU head coach Jim Scanlan said. “That's just reality. Every rule that (the NCAA has) put in has benefited them, whether it's NIL, whether it's cost of attendance, whether it's (Alston) money for academics.

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Bemidji State's Kate Boland (22) reaches for the puck in the second period against Ohio State on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“Certain schools can do it. Certain schools can't. But we're just going to go out there and we're going to continue to try to bring in the best players we can. We feel we've got a great culture here. … That's what it's all about. It doesn't really matter about all the other stuff.”

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The Beavers (2-3-1, 0-2 WCHA) faced off against No. 2 Minnesota a week ago, and this week, they’ll welcome in the No. 1 team in the nation – defending national champion Ohio State (4-0, 4-0 WCHA).

“That's the challenge of playing in this league,” Scanlan said. “We're going to go out and do the best we can. You can't worry about stuff that you can't control. What we can control is our attitude, our effort and being a great teammate. We're going to go out and try to represent Bemidji State University as best we can in a very challenging league, and we think we have a product that people enjoy watching.”

BSU has found success against the top teams as recently as last season, when the Beavers beat then-No. 2 Ohio State 3-2 on Feb. 11 at the Sanford Center . Victories like that one give them confidence every time they lace up their skates against an elite opponent.

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The Beavers clear the bench to celebrate Paige Beebe’s (18) game-winning goal against No. 2 Ohio State on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“We can't let that intimidate us,” said senior forward and alternate captain Paige Anderson. “We are a good team. And we've proven in the past that we can beat them before, so we’ve got to play our best and try and do it again.”

Of course, the Buckeyes also remember the result of that game – their final loss of the 2021-22 campaign before embarking on their championship run – and they’ll have a score to settle in Bemidji this weekend.

“I think they're going to want some serious revenge on us,” Anderson said. “They did not like losing.”

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Bemidji State's Adriana Van De Leest (24) stops a pass from Ohio State’s Paetyn Levis (27) in the second period on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Scanlan stated before the start of the season his hope that the Beavers would earn home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs, which would require finishing above at least one of those current top-five teams. To achieve that goal, Bemidji State will have to hang with and sometimes defeat teams like Ohio State, despite the difficulties inherent in doing so.

“It's all about development,” Scanlan said. “That's part of our job. You bring players in, and our ultimate goal is when they leave us, they’re going to be much better hockey players and people than they were when they entered our program. That's on us, and we feel we've got a really good process in place in order to help that happen.”

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BSU drops the puck against Ohio State at 3:01 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, and at 2:01 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Sanford Center.

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Fans cheer on the Beavers after Kayla Santl’s third-period goal against Ohio State on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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