The regular season hasn't begun, but the Minot State University women's club hockey team is looking to spend part of its Spring Break in our nation's capital.
After a strong finish to the 2011-12 season, in which the Beavers won six of their last eight games to finish 6-6, MSU coach Sam Anderson has confidence that his team can earn one of eight spots in the newly-expanded national tournament.
"Our goal is to finish with a good winning record and get to nationals in Washington, D.C.," Anderson said. "We ended on a good note and we know what we're capable of."
Mike Kraft/MDN • Minot State University freshman forward MaKayla Sandvold takes a shot against goaltender Paige Hollinger during Tuesday’s practice at Maysa Arena.
This year's team consists of four seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen. Senior forward Alecia Power is the team's leading returning scorer. She finished last season with four goals and two assists.
"I think we're going to be pretty decent this year," Power said. "I could see a spot at nationals in our future."
Power has taken over the reins of an offense held by last year's leading scorer Gabi Dolinski.
"We're trying to get to know our new freshmen players," Power said. "We only lost three girls from last year, so we know each other pretty well other than a couple freshmen. We're just working on that team chemistry."
MSU's offense features a plethora of goal scorers as the Beavers had 12 players tally at least one goal last year. Fifteen players recorded a point or more.
On defense, sophomore goaltender Paige Hollinger will start after an impressive freshman season. Hollinger played in 11 of 12 games, finishing with a 2.99 goals against average, a 0.92 save percentage and two shutouts.
"We hope she can start off where she did last year," Anderson said. "She really did well for us and she's gotten better this year."
Freshman Kayla Wakelin will serve as Hollinger's backup.
Anderson said the Beavers lost two good forwards in Dolinski and Jay Watson, but added one in freshman MaKayla Sandvold. Sandvold played for Minot High, where she finished with 108 goals and a state-leading 181 points last season.
"I'm not really sure how college hockey differentiates from high school hockey, but right now it's a pretty easy transition," Sandvold said. "The main difference is meeting new people and learning their strengths and weaknesses."
The Beavers play an exhibition game at 8 tonight against Thunder Bay, a Triple-A team from Ontario. MSU begins its regular-season schedule at 11 a.m. Saturday against Michigan State at Bronco Arena in International Falls, Minn.
The Beavers finished seventh in the 10-team ACHA West last season. MSU has to finish fourth in their region to advance to the national tournament. South Dakota State finished fourth last year at 9-8-3, 13 points in front of MSU.
"We're excited for the season," Anderson said. "It's going to be challenging and at some points difficult. We know that we can compete with anyone."