The Bemidji State University women’s hockey team is entering its 15th season of NCAA play in 2012-13 and is coming off a 2011-12 campaign in which it finished 17-17-3 and had an 11-15-2-0 ledger in the arguably the nation’s toughest conference, the WCHA. The Beavers went undefeated in nonconference play, going 6-0-1.
After jumping out to a 6-2-2 start, including a 2-1 win over eventual national champion Minnesota, Bemidji State achieve its first-ever national ranking, eventually reaching as high as No. 7. After finishing in sixth place in the conference, the Beavers took on NCAA Tournament-bound and third-seeded North Dakota in the first round. BSU ended its season by dropping tight 3-1 and 2-0 decisions on the road in the best-of-three series.
Tonight, the Beavers will open the year with a Green/White game, which will see the team split into two teams that will scrimmage each other. In lieu of an exhibition game, tonight's unofficial contest will be the team's only tune-up before it begins the official season next week at Providence College.
One area the Bemidji State has depth at this season will be up front. Last year, the Beavers’ offense was fifth in the WCHA in goals for and the team only lost one forward.
The team returns its top two scorers in seniors Sadie Lundquist and Emily Erickson. Lundquist led the team and was 17th in the WCHA in scoring with 35 points. Erickson, who is in her fifth season with the squad as a redshirt senior, had a team-high 17 goals in 2011-12 and was second on the team with 32 points. The Coleraine, Minn. native enters the season with 76 career points.
Also returning up front will be senior MacKenzie Thurston, who will be looked to for production at both ends of the ice this season as a defensive forward. BSU will also look for offense from returning sophomores Natasha Kostenko and Kristin Huber, who each recorded 13 points as freshmen. Fellow second-year skaters Whitney Wivoda and Rachael Kelly will look to build on solid debut seasons, as well. Kelly finished 2011-12 tied for the team lead game-winning goals with three.
Also looking to make impacts up front will be Abby Williams, Alex Citrowske, Molly Arola, Daneille Williams, and Jamie Hatheway. Joining Bemidji State will be freshmen Megan Lushanko, Kaitlyn Tougas, and Hanna Moher. Sophomore Stephanie Anderson will sit the season out after transferring from Minnesota.
One facet of the game the Beavers will need players to step up in is on defense, where it lost three high-end players in Montana Vichorek, Marlee Wheelhouse, and Kimberly Lieder. Vichorek, who contributed at both ends of the ice, finished third in the conference in scoring by a defenseman with 31 points and eighth in the league with 19 points on the power play.
Returning to BSU in 2012-13 will be senior captain Erika Wheelhouse. The Crookston, Minn. native finished last year with 24 points and finished the year and was rewarded for her efforts with an invitation to participate at the 2012 USA Women’s Hockey National Festival in August.
Aside from Wheelhouse, the most experienced blueline returnees are Kayleigh Chapman, who skated in 28 games last year as a freshman, and Alex Ehlert, who saw action in 11 contests. Two-way players Tess Dusik, Danielle Williams, Emily McKnight, and Jenessa Phillipczyk will also come back to the team, while rookies Lauren Merkley and Ivana Bilic will compete for playing time, as well.
Tegan Rose, who played in two games in her first year last year, will serve as a student assistant coach.
One of the bigger areas of concern for Bemidji State will come between the pipes, where 2011-12 senior captains Zuzana Tomcikova and Alana McElhinney are no longer on the team. While McElhinney provided a reliable backup option, Tomcikova enjoyed one of the most decorated careers for a goaltender in program history. The Bratislava, Slovakia native was a CCM Second Team All-American in her final year and was also chosen for the All-WCHA First Team in addition to being a nominee for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.
The Beavers’ lone returning netminder is senior Jessica Havel, the team’s third option a year ago. In her only appearance of the season, Havel stopped all 10 shots she faced in a win over Lindenwood. Havel is not the only goalie with NCAA Division I experience on the roster, however. Sophomore Abby Ryplanski transferred to BSU from Niagara University after the Purple Eagles’ women’s team folded. In 19 games, Ryplanski posted a 5-9-3 record with a .909 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average.
Also jockeying for time in goal will be freshman Alexane Rodrigue.
Though the team lost Montana Vichorek, its leader in power-play points, BSU does return many key pieces to a power-play unit that ranked fourth in the WCHA last season, clicking at a 22.1 percent rate. Sadie Lundquist tied for sixth in the conference in goals on the man advantage. Erika Wheelhouse (14) Emily Erickson (12) each had double-digit power-play points last year and MacKenzie Thurston and Kristin Huber both saw time in man-up situations.
With an 86.6 percent success rate, the Beavers’ penalty kill was also fourth in the league. Though BSU lost a good shot blocker in Marlee Wheelhouse, there are many players capable of helping kill penalties. Among them are Lundquist, Erickson, Molly Arola, Danielle Williams, and Abby Williams.
The 2012-13 Bemidji State women’s hockey schedule will be a tough one, as usual. This year’s slate includes four games apiece against national champion Minnesota, national runner-up Wisconsin, and North Dakota, a 2011-12 NCAA Tournament qualifier. The ever-tough WCHA also includes perennial power Minnesota Duluth, as well as Ohio State, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota State.
The season will begin with a trip to Hockey East opponent Providence, a team the Beavers beat and tied a year ago. BSU’s only other nonconference series will come against Maine. Bemidji State swept the Black Bears in Orono, Maine last season.
The Beavers’ home opener will come on Oct. 12 and 13 against league foe St. Cloud. The following week, the team will travel to Wisconsin to open the Badgers’ brand new LaBahn Arena. On Nov. 1, Bemidji State will pack its bags and head to Eveleth, Minn. for a neutral-site exhibition battle versus the Minnesota Whitecaps in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Face-Off Classic.