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WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Resurgent Beavers eye home ice; Gophers visit BSU to close season

BEMIDJI -- When the Bemidji State women's hockey team fell to 2-12-1 overall on Nov. 20, few outside the program would have expected the Beavers to contend for a home ice playoff spot.

3741357+101517.S.BP_.BSUWHKY WEB Melissa Hunt.jpg
BSU defenseman Melissa Hunt (5) reaches for the puck in an October 2017 game against Minnesota at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- When the Bemidji State women’s hockey team fell to 2-12-1 overall on Nov. 20, few outside the program would have expected the Beavers to contend for a home ice playoff spot.

Yet months later, that’s exactly the position they find themselves in entering the final weekend of the regular season.

“We just talked about how there’s still a chance. We could still go on a really remarkable run, a really remarkable comeback,” head coach Jim Scanlan said he told the team at the time. “That’s kind of the way we put it. We talked about how important every practice is, and just remember to embrace the process.

“And I give the group credit because they did. There was never any finger-pointing, there was never any complaining. They just came every day and worked extremely hard.”

BSU has gone 11-5-1 since its first-half slump, which was marked by a lack of offense. The Beavers generated only 20 goals over their first 15 games, but have tallied 44 in their last 17.

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During that same stretch defensively, the team went from allowing 52 goals in the first half to just 34 in the second half so far.

“I would say the energy level definitely would have changed,” senior defenseman Melissa Hunt said. “Everyone just came back and we started scoring more goals. Everyone got excited and kept working hard in practice and everything. The pieces just fell into place, I guess.”

The midseason turnaround has the Beavers in fourth place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with two games left. With 32 points, BSU is one point ahead of fifth-place Minnesota Duluth for the league’s final first-round home-ice playoff spot, and only four behind third-place Ohio State.

The Beavers control their own fate, but they’ll go up against another league foe looking to earn points this weekend.

Minnesota, ranked No. 2 in the latest USCHO.com poll, trails top-ranked Wisconsin by two points in the league standings. The Gophers will hope to claim the newly named Julianne Bye Cup as WCHA regular-season champions by weekend’s end.

Though the Beavers were previously swept by Minnesota with road losses of 6-3 and 2-1, they have played like a different team since the Nov. 2-3 series. A 2-1 upset win over Wisconsin earlier this month gives them confidence on home ice.

“We just have to remember they’re like any other team,” junior forward Jacqueline Kaasa said. “Obviously they’re very talented, and being that we took down Wisconsin a couple weeks ago here, it’s nice to be home again.”

“We have a saying in our locker room, and this weekend it’s so important,” Scanlan said. “It says, ‘Enjoy the moment, don’t worry about the outcome, expect great things to happen and just go for it.’ And that’s really going to be the message.”

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OSU will close the season against the Badgers in Madison while UMD meets seventh-place Minnesota State in Mankato.

A variety of scenarios could play out depending on how the weekend unfolds. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. BSU is 3-1-0 against OSU and 1-3-0 against UMD.

Regardless of where the Beavers end up, the team has already beaten the odds.

“Right now we’ve given ourselves a great opportunity,” Scanlan said. “... Obviously we’ve got a tremendous challenge with who we’re playing. But again, we have an opportunity. And considering where we started, that’s all we can ask for.”

BSU celebrates senior weekend The Beavers will honor Hunt and senior forward Emily Bergland as part of senior weekend in what may be their final games at the Sanford Center.

The team’s third senior Sylvia Marolt made the personal decision to leave the team last Thursday, Feb. 14, according to the BSU athletic department. Marolt, a forward, recorded three assists in 19 games this season. She last appeared in a game Jan. 26 at Minnesota State.

If you go

Who: BSU vs. Minnesota

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Where: Sanford Center

When: 3:07 p.m. Friday, Saturday

Radio: Beaver Radio Network/1300 AM

Web: FloHockey.tv

Related Topics: BEMIDJI STATE BEAVERS
Austin Monteith is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of Bloomington, Ill., he is a 2015 graduate of Butler University. Follow him on Twitter at @amonteith92. Contact the Pioneer sports department at sports@bemidjipioneer.com.
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The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.