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Lions women’s hockey continues tough stretch with Foresters

Finlandia forward Cassidy Becia turns to head up ice during a game earlier this season at the Houghton County Arena in Hancock. (Photo courtesy of Finlandia University)

HANCOCK — To say that his first season with the Finlandia Lions women’s hockey has difficult would be an understatement, but that hasn’t stopped coach Mike Kuruc from believing that his team can turn the corner with effort and determination. The Lions come into this weekend’s series against the Lake Foresters Foresters after a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The break was something he and his team embraced. His belief that his group needed a chance to catch their breath has been proven correct. By Wednesday of this week, practices were hitting a level he had not yet seen.

“We took a little bit of time off, started hitting it hard again, Monday,” he said. “Today (Wednesday), we were really good, really kind of started developing more concepts.

“When you say something in practice, you see them go out and do it for one shift right after, and then they never do it again. Today, it was more of we talked about what we’re going to do to change for Lake Forest, and we really started to develop some good stuff on concepts. I think the week off kind of refreshed us, and I think we’re back and ready to go for this last four-game push for Christmas break.”

Kuruc is focusing on making incremental improvements with the Lions moving forward.

“I think really, at this point, it’s just about getting better day by day,” he said. “The three things that I kind of preach, I preach it a lot, to all of our recruits. It’s kind of what the culture was when I got here. It’s what I like to call the three pillars of being an all star: being an all star on the ice is an obvious one, being an all star in the classroom is an obvious one, and being an all star of the community, something that’s near and dear to our program.”

He is working hard to make sure the team is working hard both on the ice and in the classroom, because he believes they will help each other.

“We’re really working on getting better in the classroom, being in every class, doing the things we need to do as a student, and then on the ice, just working on our habits,” said Kuruc. “Our practice habits are rapidly changing to the point where now, when things break down, and they don’t go perfectly, we have people incorporating concepts from other drills and other tools that we’ve used in the past, into drills that we’re doing now. I think that’s awesome. It shows a lot of growth.”

After seeing No. 12 Aurora and No. 16 St. Norbert on back-to-back weekends, the Lions are getting another tough group in the Foresters, who were projected, in the preseason polls, to finish fourth in the NCHA.

“We’re in the midst of a pretty tough slate,” Kuruc said. “We had the projected to be No. 3 in the league, No. 15 team in the country (in Aurora), then you get another team in St. Norbert, that’s now nationally-ranked. Then you’ve got the No. 4 projected in your league, who’s a great hockey team in Lake Forest. Next week, we have No. 5, so it’s a tough slate right off the hop.”

Scouting the Foresters

The Foresters come into the weekend 2-3-1 overall and 0-1-1 in NCHA play after a loss and a tie against Aurora back on Nov. 18 and 19.

The Foresters played just four games in November and are scheduled to play three games in December, all this weekend. They will face Northland on Friday before taking on the Lions on Saturday and Sunday.

So much of the Foresters’ success relies on the play of senior goaltender Hannah Turnage, one of three co-captains on the team. Turnage has made six starts, going 2-3-1, with a 2.78 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.

“They have a great goaltender,” Kuruc said. “She might be a little undersized, but she’s athletic. She flies all over the ice.”

Seniors Stokli Ashcraft and Samantha Shoebottom are tied for the team lead in points with three each. Sophomore Lauren Wensel also has three points, with two of those being goals.

The Foresters play an aggressive style on defense, trying to create turnovers. Kuruc feels that since his team has already seen this style from the Green Knights, they should be a little more comfortable taking it on again this weekend.

Game times

Saturday’s opening face off between the Lions and Foresters is set for 8 p.m. at the Houghton County Arena. Sunday’s contest is set to start at 5:30 p.m.

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