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WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Locker room vibe ‘amazing right now’ for Beavers

As Bemidji State comes off an idle week, the mood inside the program is drastically different from last season.

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Bemidji State sophomore Gabbie Smith (20) controls the puck during a January 2021 game against Minnesota State at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Last season was a struggle for the Bemidji State women’s hockey team.

The Beavers finished the year 2-16-2, including a nine-game losing streak to close out the campaign.

They’ve already matched that win total this year with a 2-6-2 record and have played some of the best teams in the country close, earning a win over a talented Clarkson squad at home and tying No. 1 Wisconsin in Madison two weekends ago.

As Bemidji State comes off an idle week, the mood inside the program is drastically different from last season.

“I think it was perfect timing for our off week,” sophomore forward Gabbie Smith said. “After coming off Wisconsin, traveling, getting home late… the vibe in the locker room is just amazing right now.

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“Compared to last year, you come every day, everybody's in a good mood, ready to play, ready to practice. And it's just a great atmosphere.”

Speaking of atmospheres, BSU relished the opportunity to go into the Badgers’ den at LaBahn Arena, one of the more unique settings in college hockey. It’s an environment that was diminished last year due to the lack of fans in the building.

“For me, since I'm only a sophomore, last year, they didn't have any fans,” Smith said. “So seeing their fans, it was awesome. It was so fun to play there and (be) able to get a point from them.”

The most crucial cog in Bemidji State’s tie with Wisconsin was sophomore goaltender Hannah Hogenson, who recorded a career-high 56 saves and won WCHA Goaltender of the Week despite playing only the first of the two games against UW.

“It was one of the best performances I've seen in my eight years by a goaltender,” head coach Jim Scanlan said. “To go into LaBahn, playing that team, and 56 shots, stop them all, just outstanding.

“She definitely made some key saves for us at the right time. And she just looked so calm. She didn't seem to get rattled or fazed by anything.”

From Smith’s perspective, Hogenson’s performance was nothing short of Herculean.

“She was unreal,” Smith said. “It was crazy. It was so fun to watch, and I was so proud of her.”

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Hogenson did not play in the second game of the series due to lingering injuries, a decision geared toward preserving the sophomore for the rest of the year.

“No question, obviously we would have loved to have just put her right back in, but she was dealing with some issues,” Scanlan said. “We just didn't want to take any chances. It was definitely precautionary. … We just took the route of being a little cautious, looking at long term here for her.”

The opponent doesn’t get much easier this week. Having already faced the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 teams in the country, all from the WCHA, this weekend BSU will host conference power Minnesota Duluth, the No. 7 team in the country.

After a week off, Hogenson and the rest of the Beavers should be close to full health. UMD presents yet another challenge in a season that has been full of them, but Bemidji State is appreciating the opportunity instead of lamenting the difficulty.

“I love playing these teams,” Smith said. “I love the competitiveness and the battle that it brings. So I would not say I'm sick of it.”

The Beavers will lace up their skates against the Bulldogs at 3:01 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, and 2:01 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Sanford Center.

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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