BEMIDJI — Lauren Bench will be back at the Sanford Center this weekend, only this time she’ll be wearing a different color sweater.
The Minnesota Gophers goaltender will go head-to-head with her old teammates on the Bemidji State women’s hockey team in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
“I think our team is all pretty excited,” BSU defenseman Abby Ecker said of playing their former teammate. “It’d be pretty awesome to put a few in her (net). But she’s one of my best friends here.”
After four seasons in Bemidji, Bench joined the Gophers as a graduate transfer prior to this season. The Eagan native graduated from BSU last year and is pursuing a masters degree at the U of M with plans to attend medical school.
Bench’s 30 wins are the fourth most by a goaltender in BSU history, and her name appears often in the program record book.
“I know our group would love to see her in the net,” Bemidji State head coach Jim Scanlan said. “They’re looking forward to the opportunity to shoot at her. Scoring on her would be better, but we’ve got to get shots to the net.”
Bench sports an 8-5-0 record, as well as a .924 save percentage and a 2.26 goals against average, good for third and fourth in the WCHA, respectively.
“I know that she’s had a pretty good season over there,” Ecker said. “It’s not going to be easy. She’s a great goalie. … It’d be pretty cool to get a win against her.”
Back at home vs. Minnesota
The Beavers (2-12-2) will be back at home for the first time since a Jan. 22-23 series against Minnesota Duluth. The Gophers (9-7-1) are set to make their first visit to the Sanford Center in more than a year, as this will be the teams’ lone meeting of the season.
For the Beavers, this week is the second in a row they’ll face a top-four team. No. 1 Wisconsin took care of business with wins of 4-0 and 7-0 against BSU last weekend.
Bemidji State will face a motivated Gophers team that dropped two spots to No. 4 in the USCHO.com poll thanks to home losses of 2-1 and 3-2 against Ohio State over the weekend.
“Unfortunately probably for us, they’re coming off a weekend they got swept at home and their back is to the wall when it comes to the NCAA tournament field,” Scanlan said. “Without any more wins, they’re in a position where they might have to win the (WCHA) tournament to advance. Certainly we’re going to get a really motivated team in here.”
Bemidji State has been eliminated from WCHA playoff contention and sits in seventh place in the league standings with four games remaining in the regular season. The Beavers hope to make the most of these outings against Wisconsin, and now Minnesota.
“Not having the opportunity to play in the playoffs, we talk about these games as being our opportunity to play these teams and just go out there and compete as hard as we can and see what happens,” Scanlan said.
At a glance
Who: BSU vs. Minnesota
Where: Sanford Center
When: 6:07 p.m. Friday; 3:07 p.m. Saturday
Radio: Beaver Radio Network/1300 AM & 94.3 FM
Web stream: FloHockey.tv