There is rebuilding, and then there is reloading.
Funny how it is that the first rate programs never have to do the former, but are adept at doing the latter. Programs such as Mercyhurst.
Success for the Lakers under head coach Michael Sisti has been constant throughout their nine-year run atop the CHA. You think it’s any accident? You don’t produce Olympians (Meghan Agosta) and Kazmaier winners (Vicki Bendus) by a fluke. You don’t win 80 percent of your games, and make Frozen Four appearances, by serendipity.
It takes players, and Sisti has a knack for keeping them pouring onto the Lake Erie shore (which some like to call ‘America’s North Coast’).
“When we recruit kids,” said Sisti, whose Lakers (4-0-0) occupy the No. 1 spot in the USCHO rankings, “we come through with our promises. We tell them that we’re going to throw them into the fire. We lose great players, and the only way we can continue to be successful is because we’re able to bring in the next generation of great players.”
Which brings us to Christine Bestland, who, along with forwards Christine Cicero and Lauren Barnes, are the lone freshmen to crack the Mercyhurst roster. The native Winnipeger made one visit to campus, fell in love with the place, and the team.
“I was pretty well set on coming here,” said Bestland, “because I had a really good time. The girls were very welcoming, and I like the way the team is coached.”
Just like that, Bestland had a new hockey home, and Sisti had himself the makings of an outstanding scoring winger.
“First, she’s a very talented player,” said Sisti. “But (more importantly) she’s a great person. That’s really important to us. To have quality character people who work hard every day, be respectful, and play with a lot of pride and passion. And ‘Besty’ certainly does that. We saw her as a highly talented player who was just scratching the surface.
“We really felt that in our competitive environment, she’d get top-end coaching that would bring out her talent, and help her reach new heights.”
Through four games, Bestland has registered two goals and four assists, worked on the power play and killed penalties, and in general, has managed to wedge her way into a top-six forward role.
“She’s pulling her weight,” said Sisti. “It’s not just charity ice time. Certainly, with her work ethic and the pride she has, we think she’s going to thrive here.”
“I knew that I had to play my game to get my ice time,” said Bestland. “I feel that my speed is one of the (assets) that I have. I know coming into college hockey, that I have to get a lot stronger. The need for strength is completely different than in high school hockey.”
Bestland, who also has Hockey Canada U-17 experience, went through the British Columbia-based Pursuit of Excellence program to knock off some of the rough edges.
“Girls go there to get better at their game,” said Bestland, “and I feel that a lot of us who went there who have improved quite a bit. We weren’t in a league because we were told that our team was too strong.”
Of course four games does not make a season, and certainly not a career. However, Bestland is stoked about the way things are coming together for her.
“Every practice, I feel I’m learning something new,” she said. “Especially when it comes to systems. They’re totally different from what I learned last year. So I pay attention, ask questions to improve my game.”
Bestland is not the only hockey player in her family. Her older brother Darren mans the blue line for the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL).
While the new Consol Energy Center has been anything but friendly to its primary tenants, the Pittsburgh Penguins (0-3 to date), Robert Morris has a chance to make it seem more hospitable. The Colonials will host Northeastern in the gleaming new addition to the already spectacular ‘Burgh skyline on Saturday.
The Huskies, of course, have their own experience with cool (and we do mean cool) venues, having battled UNH at outdoors Fenway Gardens, ‘er Park, back in January.