WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Veteran-laden Beavers eager to open season
BEMIDJI -- No reload was necessary for the Bemidji State women’s hockey team this offseason. Not for a team that returns 14 of its top 15 goal scorers.
A veteran-heavy team will lead the Beavers onto the ice when the puck drops on the 2019-20 regular season this weekend. BSU will host Lindenwood in a nonconference series Oct. 4-5 at the Sanford Center.
The Beavers return 15 upperclassmen after graduating only two seniors from last season’s squad.
“We have three solid goalies we know we can rely on whenever,” senior forward and co-captain Kiki Radke said. “We have nine defensemen; almost all of them have experience also. And the forwards, the main core has been here before. So I think that’s our biggest strength.”
Jacqueline Kaasa is one of six returning seniors after leading the team with 10 goals a year ago. Clair DeGeorge, one of nine juniors, returns with her team-high 22 points (9g-13a) after playing with the U.S. U-22 select team over the summer. Senior co-captain Abby Halluska and junior Paige Beebe each contributed nine goals last season. Senior Haley Mack, the team’s leading scorer in 2017-18, is also back after injuries caused her to miss 14 games last year.
Heather Olson and Briana Jorde will patrol the blue line as seniors along with junior Mak Langei, whose 11 points (3g-8a) paced all BSU defensemen a year ago.
Redshirt junior Lauren Bench, junior Kerigan Dowhy and sophomore Lexi Baker will jockey for time in net. Bench started 23 games last year and posted team highs in goals against average (2.51) and save percentage (.909).
“To have all three battling, it’s certainly a good thing for us just because it’s not a situation where’s there’s a clear cut (of) who’s one, two or three,” head coach Jim Scanlan said. “They’re fighting extremely hard for that opportunity.”
Six freshmen newcomers have joined the program -- forwards Mya Neugent, Paige Anderson, Cheyenne Abear and Reece Hunt, and defensemen Abby DeLaRosa and Kate Boland. Redshirt-freshman defenseman Lexi Cheveldayoff, daughter of Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, will also suit up after sitting out last season.
Of the newcomers, Hunt -- brother of Florida Panthers forward Dryden Hunt -- has stood out the most to Scanlan.
“Her puck protection skills are just uncanny,” Scanlan said. “It’s something that some players just have a tough time grasping, but it’s just so natural to her. The first thing she does when she gets the puck is protect it. She’s got great hands and is really good around the net.”
When the Beavers take the ice this weekend, they’ll hope to get the season off to a better start than last year, when they opened 0-9-1 before going 13-12-1 the rest of the way.
“I think it’s just starting off fast and positive,” Halluska said when asked how to avoid repeating the slow start. “We can’t think about 0-9-1. But obviously for us seniors, it’s going to be a little bit of a kick in the butt.”
Bemidji State rebounded to finish fifth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and even knocked off top-ranked and eventual national champion Wisconsin in February. Fifth is also where league coaches voted the team finish in this year’s preseason poll, though the team is driven to reach even higher this season.
BSU is aiming to make a push towards earning the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Making it out of a league that counts national finalists Wisconsin and Minnesota as members won’t be easy, but the Beavers are up for the challenge.
“That’s a big challenge,” Scanlan said. “Absolutely a huge challenge. But it’s one the group is going to say, ‘Let’s take a shot at it. Let’s take a run at it.’ So, we know how important every series is starting with that very first one against Lindenwood. If you’re going to be a team that’s going to qualify, then you have to take care of business.”
If you go
Who: BSU vs. Lindenwood
Where: Sanford Center
When: 6:07 p.m. Friday; 3:07 p.m. Saturday
Radio: Beaver Radio Network/1300 AM