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Kaz Watch: Mercyhurst’s Bestland aims to recreate dream junior season

02/11/2014, 1:15pm MST
By Doug Williams - Special to USAHockey.com

The 2012-13 season was a magical one for Mercyhurst University and forward Christine Bestland.

The Lakers beat Cornell University in overtime to clinch a spot in the Frozen Four, won 29 games and had the third best offense in the nation, averaging more than 4.2 goals per game. And Bestland, the College Hockey America Conference Player of the Year, led the charge with the best season of her life, scoring 28 goals with 44 assists. Her 72 points made her the No. 4 scorer in NCAA Division I.

It was a year Bestland — now a senior who’s fifth in the nation in scoring — will never forget.

“Last year would be a highlight moment, when we beat Cornell to take us to the Frozen Four, that being my first year ever going,” said Bestland, who comes from Brunkild, Manitoba. “That was very exciting for us. The experience was amazing.”

Though Mercyhurst was beaten 4-1 by Boston University in the Frozen Four semifinals, the Lakers finished 29-7-1 and fell just one win short of the school record for victories in a season.

And, individually, Bestman, felt as if everything clicked.

As a freshman, Bestman had scored 18 goals and totaled 42 points. As a sophomore, she had 24 goals and 58 points. Then she beat that point total by 14.

“I was very happy with my season last year,” she said. “I was hoping I could have one similar this year as I had last year, but I know that throughout this year I’ve been very inconsistent.

“But, the season’s not over yet. I have half a season left to try and get it back up there. But my season last year, I was very happy with.”

Mercyhurst lost a half dozen players off last year’s roster and struggled a bit at the start of this season, dropping three games and tying another. Still, the Lakers are 19-7-3 overall, lead the CHA at 12-3-1 are ranked 10th in the nation.

“We’re a young team and we’ve had a lot to learn, but we’ve come a long way,” said Bestland, who’s in her second season as team captain.

She’s hopeful that the entire team can ride a second-half surge to get back to the postseason, but is particularly tough on herself, saying she needs to sharpen her game. She may be one of the nation’s best scorers this season, but she says her shot hasn’t been as crisp and as accurate as it needs to be.

In fact, she says that’s been something she’s always struggled with. Last year, she chalks up those 28 goals to good fortune. This season, she has 15 goals and 28 assists.

“I think I just got lucky last year,” she said. “I’ve always struggled putting the puck in the net. I get so many opportunities, yet I never finish.”

She says she plans to put in extra time after practices, trying to recapture some of the touch she had last season. She’s frustrated about missing scoring chances.

“I’m just not burying every chance that I get, which I should be, and it just kind of messes with me mentally,” she said. “I mean, I’m still playing like I used to, but it’s not showing on the score sheet.”

In some games this season, however, Bestland’s score sheet has been a beautiful thing. Over consecutive weekends in early December, Bestland had a hat trick in a win over Penn State University and then another three-goal game against Lindenwood University. Bestland looks back at those games and says she simply capitalized on her opportunities.

“I feel other games I played I had those chances but have been unable to put the puck in the net,” she said. “I got lucky those two weekends.”

While Bestland isn’t satisfied with her performance, her coach and team like what she brings every day. Even Bestland says she’ll never stop working, and she takes pride on playing hard, going into the corners and playing defense.

Last season, in fact, Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti credited Bestland for being an all-around player and positive influence.

“She does everything in the game — power play, penalty kill, five-on-five,” Sisti told a reporter just before the trip to the Frozen Four. “She plays well defensively and is obviously gifted offensively. She’s done a good job of growing in a leader.”

As she gets close to the end of her four-year career at Mercyhurst, Bestland also has grown into one of the greatest players in school history, and her name is now all over the Lakers’ record book. She passed 200 career points this season to become just the fifth player in program history to do so, and now ranks No. 3 all time at the Erie, Pa. school. She is third all-time in assists and fifth in goals. And her 72-point season as a junior was the fourth best ever.

Bestland, who began playing hockey at age 4 and spent most of her early years playing on boys’ teams, is now closing in on the end of her college career.

And, she’d like to make the final season special. She’d love to get the chance to play in one more Frozen Four.

“We know how important the second half is, and we know that we have to win every single game,” she said. “We need to come out as hard as we can every weekend.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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