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Sophomore Kendra Fortin fortifying Bemidji State's young defensive corps

When Kendra Fortin came to Bemidji State, she had to adjust to the speed of the WCHA after playing a shortened season in the final year of her junior career. She also had to adapt to the American education system, which contained a few subtle tweaks from what she was used to.

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Bemidji State's Kendra Fortin (26) fights for the puck in the first period against Wisconsin on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at the Sanford Center. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI – Kendra Fortin didn’t always think she would be a defenseman.

Growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fortin played some forward, as many young hockey players do. Eventually, though, she found her hockey home with the Bemidji State women’s hockey team by preventing opponents from putting the puck in the net.

“I was actually a forward until two years before I came here,” Fortin said. “So definitely the speed of everything (was an adjustment). I really needed to work on my backwards skating when I switched (from) forward, because I'd be doing a lot more of that as a defenseman.”

Fortin eventually found more comfort playing in reverse, to the point where playing forward became disorienting.

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Bemidji State's Kendra Fortin (26) passes the puck in front of the Clarkson University net on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, at the Sanford Center. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

“Being forward, it's so different,” she said. “You don't see the ice as well. Obviously, when you're a defenseman, you see all the ice in front of you. Whereas (when) you're a forward, I felt like I was driving backwards in some ways. I don't know how to explain it, but I love playing D and I just love being able to see everything. And it's a lot of decision making, which honestly might help me in the classroom a little bit. I feel a bit brighter.”

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A sophomore who played heavy minutes in her freshman season, Fortin has emerged as one of the leaders of Bemidji State’s still-young defensive corps. When combined with junior goaltender Hannah Hogenson, the Beavers seem to have plenty of potential to build upon moving forward.

“I go back to the trust issue,” said BSU head coach Jim Scanlan, a former goalie for the Beaver men’s team. “I always tell our goalies, your position is probably the most important position on the team. Because if you have a goalie that works incredibly hard in practice and is battling and trying to do everything she can to stop pucks in practice, her teammates recognize that. So when it comes to games, they're going to do anything they can to help her.

“On the flip side, if you have somebody that doesn't try very hard, is always pointing fingers, always blaming somebody else for pucks going to the net, maybe (the skaters) might lift a leg when that slapper comes. (They’re) saying, ‘Alright, you stop it.’ That relationship is really, really big.”

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Bemidji State's Kendra Fortin (26) shoots in the first period against Minnesota State on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

When Fortin came to BSU, she had to adjust to the speed of the WCHA after playing a shortened season in the final year of her junior career. She also had to adapt to the American education system, which contained a few subtle tweaks from what she was used to.

“With the COVID years and everything, I wasn't fully playing 5-on-5 hockey for two years before my first Division I hockey game,” she said. “So that was for sure a challenge. And then school-wise, everything is a little bit different, whether it's the grading or the way that you say things. (People say) I'm going to go take a test (instead of) I'm going to write a test. But adjustments and getting made fun of by your American friends is always entertaining too, so it's been a blast.”

As a team, BSU (3-10-1, 1-9-0 WCHA) next takes on No. 1 Ohio State (10-1-1, 10-1-1 WCHA) at 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, in Columbus, Ohio.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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