BEMIDJI -- Lauren Bench isn’t quite ready to end her college hockey career just yet.

The Bemidji State goaltender has announced she will be joining the Minnesota Gophers as a graduate transfer for the 2020-21 season.

Bench, a chemistry major with a biology minor, is set to graduate from BSU this spring. She had previously announced she wouldn’t return to Bemidji State for her redshirt senior season so she could pursue a medical degree.

But Bench knew she wanted to continue playing while also pursuing a path to medical school, something she discussed after the season with head coach Jim Scanlan.

“We both agreed that I think with me wanting to pursue more education and having a year of eligibility left, it seemed like an appropriate thing for me to try and do,” Bench said. “I think it all worked out really well in the end with being able to come home and get a really great education out of it.”

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As an Eagan native and Burnsville High School graduate, playing one more season close to her family was something Bench couldn’t pass up, especially when she’ll also be able to obtain a master’s degree with her sights set on medical school the year after.

“I just think growing up, seeing the U of M… my brother went there and it just has always been somewhere that I’ve really enjoyed (when) visiting my brother,” Bench said. “Being at a big school is such a change from Bemidji that I think it’s just going to be an exciting time to do something completely different after my four great years at Bemidji.”

Bench will have a good chance of making an impact right away with the Gophers. Reigning WCHA Goaltender of the Year Sydney Scobee is departing after her senior year, and the other two netminders on Minnesota’s roster in 2019-20 were freshmen Makayla Pahl and Olivia King. The Gophers finished 27-6-3 overall and in second place in the WCHA, earning the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Nothing’s guaranteed, but I’m obviously hoping to be able to see some ice time and help the team any way I can,” Bench said.

Though she won’t be a Beaver for much longer, Bench is appreciative of the time she’s spent at BSU.

“I’ve grown as a player, I’ve grown as a person, and I’ve met some really great people along the way,” she said. “My best friends all come from Bemidji, and I know that a lot of my best friends are still going to be playing there, so it’s going to be pretty crazy playing against Bemidji, that’s for sure. But it’s been great.

“I’m really thankful for the four years that I’ve been lucky enough to have there and the opportunities I was given. I wouldn’t be in the position to be able to play somewhere else if it weren’t for Bemidji and if it weren’t for all the support and everything I had there.”

Many of Bench’s BSU teammates have reached out to her to let her know they’re happy for her, even if she may be joining a WCHA rival.

“I never would want to make them think that there’s any hard feelings because I absolutely love my teammates, and I’m really, really thankful that I’ve had their support and that they’ve really been happy for me,” Bench said. “I’m really excited, as weird as it’s going to be, to play them again and be able to see them. … If anyone scores on me, if I’m playing, I know that the girls will be giving me crap about that for a long time.”

The Beavers celebrate with goalie Lauren Bench (35) after defeating No. 8 Minnesota Duluth on Saturday at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
The Beavers celebrate with goalie Lauren Bench (35) after defeating No. 8 Minnesota Duluth on Saturday at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

Standout BSU career

Bench ranks among the best goaltenders in Bemidji State program history.

After redshirting in 2016-17, she compiled a career record of 30-36-4 with a 2.45 goals against average, .912 save percentage and 10 shutouts in 73 games, including 72 starts.

In the program record book, Bench is third all-time in shutouts; fourth in wins, GAA, and save percentage; and fifth in games played, minutes played (4,266), and total saves (1,794).

She also owns three of the nine longest shutout streaks in program history, including the longest at 165 minutes, 55 seconds. Bench won’t soon forget her final win as a Beaver, in which she totaled a program-record 70 saves in a 2-1 WCHA playoff triumph at Minnesota Duluth that lasted four overtimes.

As a redshirt junior this past season, Bench finished 13-16-2 with a 2.25 GAA, .919 save percentage and four shutouts, all career bests. She was also named WCHA Goaltender of the Month for December and was league goalie of the week on four occasions. Bench earned All-WCHA Third Team honors in 2018-19 and was a three-time member of the league all-academic team.

“I was just so proud of her for the year she had this year,” Scanlan said. “She just matured as a player, as a person and really brought her A-game. She was so consistent pretty much all year long and obviously a part of some huge wins in her career here. … I’m really happy for her.”