BEMIDJI -- There was nothing regular about 2020. Disrupted routines, limited communion with friends and family, and -- in a sports context -- myriad cancellations.
But as vaccination rates climbed and the world slowly got back to normal in 2021, so did sports -- something Bemidji State women’s hockey has already enjoyed and appreciated.
“I'm certainly truly excited to kind of have a little bit more of a normal preseason,” head coach Jim Scanlan said during the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s media day webinar. “And just excited for the players that they're getting to experience more of a normal college first-year experience, second-year experience, whatever it might be for our freshmen and sophomores.
“Just getting around campus with students around again, it's just really, really cool, to be honest. And it just all leads to just a lot of excitement leading into another hockey season.”
Aside from enjoying the campus vibe, the Beavers have been able to practice all together again, something that COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from doing last season. Now, with the increased time spent together on and off the ice, Scanlan hopes to see dividends when games start.
“Last year was such a challenge, and everybody went through it,” Scanlan said. “We started off the season, you could only have half your group on the ice at a time and the whole social distancing thing was going on. It was just different … (This year), we've been able to be on the ice as a group, and then they as a team have been able to do so much together, which is so important in terms of creating your identity and creating your culture. You need that time to get together and get to know each other and connect, and we've been able to do that.”
That time away from the ice included a stop at Bemidji State’s season-opening football game against Wayne State on Saturday, Sept. 11. Scanlan stressed that the blend of off-ice bonding and on-ice stability will give the Beavers the opportunity to create lasting chemistry.
Senior forward Claudia Verkerke noted that not only was this an opportunity not present in 2020, it was something the Beavers had not done prior to that.
“The team, even without COVID, we normally don't get to go to college football games,” Verkerke said. “But it's awesome just to be able to support the other athletes on campus and be a part of that college experience, and be able to stand by each other and support each other like all the other athletes do for us.”
On the ice, the Beavers have worked to refine their skills, especially with an unusually large roster due to some players receiving COVID-19 eligibility waivers. BSU will use its newfound depth to explore how it can attack opponents in new ways.
“We have a number of super seniors back, and we already had a fairly large incoming freshman class, so the combination is we do have a lot of bodies,” Scanlan said. “It gives us an opportunity, obviously, to look at different combinations we have. We've had the time to do that.”
Time is running out in one aspect for the Beavers -- the season begins soon, with an exhibition at St. Cloud State scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25. Before then, Bemidji State will have to decide whom it can rely on to play to the standard Scanlan is looking for.
But that doesn’t dull the Beavers’ enthusiasm to get on the ice in a competitive setting. In fact, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel as they trudge through training camp.
“That's something that we can build toward,” Scanlan said. “Last year at this time, we had no idea what our schedule was going to look like. We didn’t know when we were going to start, if we were going to start. So just having that date out there makes our jobs a lot easier in terms of preparation.”