Beavers kick off season with trip to Providence
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Beavers kick off season with trip to Providence

Dates/Times: Oct. 5, 2012, 6 p.m. & Oct. 6, 2012, 3 p.m.
Location: Schneider Arena (3,030), Providence, R.I.
Series History: BSU leads 1-0-1
Twitter: @BSUBeavers or @BeaverWoHockey

In The Beginning...
The Bemidji State women’s hockey program opens its 15th season of existence with a 148-311-56 record. Last season, the Beavers went 17-17-3 with an 11-15-2  WCHA ledger, good for sixth place in the conference. The team returns 20 players from a year ago and welcome eight newcomers. BSU lost eight players, including Second Team All-American goaltender Zuzana Tomcikova, reliable backup Alana McElhinney, and three top defensemen in Montana Vichorek, Marlee Wheelhouse, and Kim Lieder. One of the team’s returning strengths is offense. Bemidji State returns 71.3 percent of its 2011-12 goal-scoring, including top scorer Sadie Lundquist and leading goal-scorer Emily Erickson. USA Hockey National Festival invitee Erika Wheelhouse is also back.

BSU vs. Providence
This weekend’s meetings between BSU and Providence will be the third and fourth all-time. In 2011-12, the teams began the year with a two-game series in Bemidji. The teams played to a scoreless tie on the first night and the Beavers beat the then-No. 10 Friars 3-1 the following night.

About the Friars
Providence, who received the 14th-most votes in the season-opening Division I Poll, was 16-17-4 last year and tied Maine for fourth place in Hockey East. The Friars were picked to finish in the same spot this year by the conference’s coaches. Providence has a young  team (14 freshmen) in 2012-13 and will be led by junior Corinne Buie and senior Jessica Vella, who had 26 and 18 points, respectively, last year. PC is looking to replace its top three scorers, as well as starting goaltender Genevieve Lacasse.

About Last Year
The 2011-12 Bemidji State women’s hockey season was a memomarble one. The Beavers finished with a 17-17-3 record, setting a program record for wins in a single season. BSU also topped its best WCHA win total by winning 11 conference contests. Along the way, the Beavers achieved a top-ten national ranking for the first time ever, checking as high as No. 7. After beating and tying Providence in the first week of the season, Bemidji State at least received votes in every poll through the end of the season.

The Beavers first vaulted into national rankings when they defeated eventual national champion Minnesota oin Oct. 28. The loss was one of four in regulation for the Gophers on the season. BSU recorded at least one win against every squad in the WCHA except regular-season champion Wisconsin and finished 6-0-1 in nonconference play. Bemidji State finished in sixth place in the conference and went on to get eliminated in the first round of the league playoffs against North Dakota in two low-scoring, two-goal games.

Green and White
In lieu of a pre-season exhibition game, Bemidji State hosted an intra-squad Green/White game last Friday at the Sanford Center. Non-roster players that participated in the unofficial contest were 2011-12 seniors Marlee Wheelhouse and Lauren Williams. Stephanie Anderson, a sophomore transfer from Minnesota who will sit out this season due to transfer regulations, also played in the game. Due to the small size of the teams, the game was played four-on-four and featured three 15-minute periods with running time.

The night was highlighted by a hat trick by senior MacKenzie Thurston that included a shorthanded goal. Fellow senior Sadie Lunquist opened the scoring for Team Green before Thurston tied the score 1:15 and sandwiched her final two goals of the nigh around a tally by Wheelhouse early in the second period. In the third period, Team Green cut its 4-1 deficit to 4-3 with goals by Lunquist and Erickson, but Kaitlyn Tougas iced the Team White win by scoring an empty-net goal.

Between the Pipes
This season, the Beavers will look to fill a big void between in net. BSU had one of the best goaltending  tandems in the country a year ago with seniors Zuzana Tomcikova and Alana McElhinney. McElhinney provided a reliable backup option to Tomcikova as the Bratislava, Slovakia natice broke every major career goaltender record for Bemidji State.

Tomcikova left as the school’s the all-time leader in saves, wins, games played, minutes played, shutouts, goals against average, and saves percentage. Her 3,462 saves also left her slotted third all-time in saves in Division I history. Her historic 2011-12 campaign earned her CCM Second-Team All-America, All-WCHA First-Team, and Beaver Pride Student-Athlete of the Year Honors. Tomcikova was also a nominee for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given the top player in Division I women’s hockey.

Replacing Tomcikova and McElhinney will be no easy task. This season’s goaltending duties will be left to senior Jessica Havel, who saw 20 minutes of playing time as the team’s third option in goal last year, and Abby Ryplanski, a sophomore who transferred from Niagara after the program folded. Also in the running for playing time with be freshman Alexane Rodrigue, the youngest player on the team.

On the Blueline
Another gap the BSU women’s hockey team will look to fill will be on defense, where the team lost three of its top four players to graduation in Montana Vichorek, Marlee Wheelhouse, and Kimberly Lieder. All three players produced at both ends of the ice, putting up points and blocking shots. Vichorek finished third among WCHA defensemen in scoring (31 points) and eighth in power-play points (19). Wheelhouse was right behind Vichorek on the team scoring list with 27 points and Lieder has a team-high in the plus/minus category at +12.

What’s Up Front
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 in Lauren Willaims. BSU 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 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.

Behind the Bench
Accomplished head coach Steve Sertich will return for a seventh season behind the BSU bench, coming in with a 64-127-27 record. Assistants Shane Veenker (sixth season) and Amber Fryklund (second season) will join Sertich, along with strength and conditioning student Kailey Cox (second season) and student Tegan Rose, who played for the team as a freshman last year.

We Meet Again
Prior to last season, Bemidji State had never played Providence, but the Friars opened BSU’s season with a series at the Sanford Center. In the first game, the Beavers outshot PC 39-23, but the teams played to a scoreless tie through 65 minutes before the Friars prevailed in a shootout. In the second game, the Beavers got on the board twice in the first period with goals by Kimberly Lieder and then-freshman Rachael Kelly. Montana Vichorek made it 3-0 in the second period and the Friars capped the scoring late in the frame to lead to a 3-1 final. Nastasha Kostenko, Abby Williams, and MacKenzie Thurston recorded assists in the game.

The win led to BSU receiving votes in the national polls and began a 6-0-1 nonconference run in 2011-12, including a 3-0-1 ledger against teams from Hockey East. The Friars, who will host this weekend’s season-opening series, went on to finish tied for fourth in their conference.

On the Docket
The schedule for the BSU women’s hockey team is tough as usual in 2012-13. After beginning with Poll vote-gettier Providence this weekend, the Beavers will jump right into grueling WCHA slate, that includes four meetings apiece against four top-ten teams: unanimous No. 1 and defending national champion Minnesota, No. 4 and defending WCHA regular-season champ Wisconsin, No. 5 North Dakota, and No. 8 Minnesota Duluth.

The month October features a large amont of travel for BSU. After beginning the year with its longest trip, 1,200 miles to Providence, the Beavers will come home for their only home series of the month against St. Cloud. After that, Bemidji State will open Wisconsin’s new LaBahn Arena in a Friday-Sunday series and with follow that with its’ second-longest trip of the season, an 800 mile trek to Ohio State. After October is finished, the team will only leave the state of Minnesota one more time for a series at North Dakota in February.

This weekend’s pair of games against Providence will mark one of of only two nonconference series in 2012-13. Aside from traveling to play Friars, the Beavers will host Maine of Hockey East on Nov. 9 and 10. The week before its series against the Black Bears, Bemidji State will play its only exhibition of the season in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Classic against the Minnesota Whitecaps in Eveleth, Minn.

Oh Captain, My Captain
This year’s BSU hockey team will enter the season with an average age of 20.1, consisting of eight seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores, and seven freshmen. Leading the team as captains will be senior forward and fourth-year defenseman Erika Wheelhouse, a 2012 USA Women’s Hockey Festival invitee and sister of 2011-12 senior Marlee Wheelhouse. Wearing the “A” as assistant captain will be MacKenzie Thurston, a two-way forward who posted a career-high 15 points (1g-15a) last season.

Preseason Picks
After a sixth-place finish in 2011-12, the Beavers were slotted in the same spot in the WCHA Coaches Poll, which was released last week. The top five teams were Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota (tied for second), Minnesota Duluth, and Ohio State. BSU was picked ahead of the Buckeyes for a fifth-place finish in the’s season preview. Both Minnesota State and St. Cloud State were picked to finish behind the Beavers in both set of picks.

Atop the preview was North Dakota, followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin.