BEMIDJI -- Lauren Bench could soon trade in her goalie mask for a surgical mask.

The netminder for the Bemidji State women’s hockey team will forego her redshirt senior season as she plans to pursue a medical degree.

The decision to end her collegiate career with one year of eligibility remaining did not come easy.

“It was time for me to move on I think, just with my class graduating,” Bench said. “It was a hard decision. But I thought with my future and what I want to do, I think it was just the time for me to step away. I’m really lucky to have a lot of people in my life that have been really supportive of me.”

Bench has started in 67 games over the last three seasons, accruing nine shutouts to go along with a 2.54 goals against average and a .908 save percentage for a career record of 28-33-4. Her 28 career victories rank fourth in program history, and her shutout streak of 165 minutes, 55 seconds set during the 2018-19 season is a program record.

An All-WCHA Third Team selection one year ago, Bench has piled up four WCHA Goaltender of the Week awards this season, as well as earning goalie of the month honors for December.

There is no shortage of academic accolades for the Eagan native and Burnsville High School graduate either. Bench is a two-time AHCA All-American Scholar, WCHA All-Academic Team selection, and WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award recipient.

She’s accomplished all that as a chemistry major with a biology minor, not the easiest of workloads to manage while also tending goal for a Division I hockey program.

“It’s tough, with the time commitment of hockey and everything else, just trying to balance it,” Bench said. “But I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. I loved being able to do what I did with my academic career and still be able to play at such a high level of hockey.”

Her interest in a medical career began early.

“Just since I was young I’ve always thought it was very interesting, like how the body works,” Bench said. “Some people in my family have had certain health issues that have just made that interesting and more real, just seeing what they’ve gone through at hospitals and different doctors. I’ve just always had an interest in it.

“Going to school here and having chemistry and my anatomy classes and all that have always been my favorite classes. It just always seemed like the right decision for me.”

This spring, Bench will begin applying to medical schools with interviews on the docket next year, after which she’ll hopefully learn she’s been accepted into a program. Right now she’s leaning towards a career as an anesthesiologist.

“It’ll probably change. I’ve got a long way to go, but I think anesthesiology is super cool and very, very interesting,” Bench said. “Right now that’s where I’d like to be, but I’ve got a long way before I decide that for sure.”

Bench and six of her teammates were honored on Senior Day following last Saturday’s defeat to Minnesota for what turned out to be their final game at the Sanford Center. The moment was not lost on Bench.

“I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for Beaver hockey and for everything I’ve been able to go through here and be with the girls I’ve been able to be around here,” Bench said. “It was definitely a bittersweet moment. I didn’t think I was going to cry, but with the last 10 seconds, I looked up at the scoreboard and tears started coming down my face. And a girl is coming down the side and I was just having to tell myself, ‘Get it together because you’ve got to be able to see the puck if she shoots.’ I think it just goes to show it’s been a special four years. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Last weekend was not the end of the line for Bench and the Beavers. Bemidji State will close the regular season this weekend at St. Cloud State before hitting the road for the WCHA quarterfinals the weekend of Feb. 28.