by Jason Olson
Former Coon Rapids hockey standout Rachel Bona and University of Minnesota freshman forward has compiled a remarkable freshman campaign but isn’t satisfied yet.
The No. 2 nationally ranked University of Minnesota squad begins its postseason run this weekend with a best-of-three games series against St. Cloud State University in the opening weekend of the WCHA playoffs at Ridder Arena where the Gophers are 14-0-2.
The Gophers are seeded second behind rival Wisconsin, which also sits ahead of the Gophers in the national rankings and is the reigning national champion.
Bona has 12 points (seven goals) in 32 games so far this season, which is a far cry from her Coon Rapids high school record of 98 points last season.
Stepping into the spotlight of one of the top women’s hockey programs in the nation took some adjustments.
The pace of the game and the strength of the other skaters are the two biggest differences between high school and major collegiate hockey, according to Bona.
“You have to make quicker decisions,” Bona said. “Get the puck off your stick quicker, shoot quicker. You definitely don’t have as much time as you had in high school.”
Last season Bona would take the puck on end-to-end rushes and that just doesn’t happen at the next level.
“I think it’s just comfort for her,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said.
That is typical for freshman, coming straight in from high school, he said. “Early on she tended not to play to her strengths,” Frost said. “She plays very composed with the puck, very smart hockey player and has great hands and I think at times she went away from those things because the speed of the game was not what she was used to.
Now you see her getting back to those things she’s used to.”
Bona garnered WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for Jan. 25 after scoring a key goal in a 3-2 comeback win against Bemidji State.
“That was exciting,” she said. “We were losing 2-0 and I scored to make it 2-1, so they considered that a pretty big goal. That’s always exciting and that was one of my personal goals to get Rookie of the Week at least once.”
She has 10 shots on goal over the last three games with her lone goal coming 33 seconds into the third period of a 7-4 win at Ohio State Feb. 11.
Facing a world-class goalie in Finnish National Team starter Noora Raati each day in practice has been a blessing in growing her shooting and offensive ability.
“[Noora’s] unbelievable,” Bona said. “If there is one person who can teach me where to shoot it’s her. She’s an unreal goalie and it definitely helps us going against her every day.”
Getting a taste of college rivalries between Duluth, Wisconsin, North Dakota and St. Cloud State, Bona said their tussles with Bucky Badger have been the most memorable.
“I’ve kind of grown to learn about those,” she said. “I’ve always known about UMD and Wisconsin, but it’s a little bit different when you’re playing them. Personally, I like to beat Wisconsin more than anybody else. Our games against them have been so close, so intense and it’s such a great feeling to beat them because you know they’re on top, they won it all last year and they’re the hot shots.”
Playing in front of a 2,500 fans inside Ridder Arena caught Bona a little by surprise.
“They’ve been so unbelievable. It’s unreal. It’s great,” she said, noting a 3-3 tie against Wisconsin Jan. 6. “We got the first-ever wave started in Ridder before the start of overtime.”
Moving away from home for the first time took some adjusting to at first for Bona, but sharing an apartment with classmates Rachel Ramsey, Meghan Lorence and Stephanie Anderson appears to be more of a who’s who of prep hockey standouts from last season than roommates.
Ramsey won a state title with Minnetonka and was a Ms. Hockey finalist, Lorence was the Star Tribune’s Metro Player of the Year and Ms. Hockey Finalist, Anderson captained the Minnesota Thoroughbreds last season and was part of the U.S. Under-18 team and Bona was a Ms. Hockey finalist.
Bona’s first collegiate point was an assist on Lawrence’s goal in a win over St. Cloud State Oct. 7.
“That was funny. We wanted one of us to get it and it was really exciting to get it against St. Cloud,” she said. “I just passed it up front and she was there. We were kind of hoping we would get the first goal.”
The roommates began the season on the same line, but since have moved to fit the coaches adjustments.
Bona, a left winger, was penciled in with line mates senior Jen Schoullis and sophomore Amanda Kessel the previous three weekends before moving to a line with sophomore Sarah Davis and senior Emily West for last weekend’s contests against North Dakota.
Moving from foe to teammate and roommate was a definite change for Bona, who faced Lawrence and Irondale many times.
“It’s weird playing with people you always compete with,” Bona said. “It’s nice that we’re all roommates now. We’re all pretty good friends off and on the ice.”
Frost said that bond is a common one among freshmen.
“They’re a really close group and when you’re living with each other and are the new kids on the team, you have that bond,” he said. “All of them have done a great job transitioning to their game.”
Even though they’re freshman and might not make the impact they did on previous clubs, their time is coming. “They’ve got some great leadership to learn from and we would expect them to be leading the team as well their junior and senior years,” Frost said.
Bona’s first goal came at rival Wisconsin Oct. 14 and her only game-winner came against Ohio State Dec. 10.
Even with her busy schedule, Bona found time last Sunday, the team’s typical day off, to catch the Augsburg/St. Thomas game with Coon Rapids coach Jessica Christopherson. Bona’s Cardinal teammates Crystal Amunrud (Augsburg) squared off against Dani Lobjeko (St. Thomas). The Auggies won the game 2-1 Feb. 18.
Last February Bona helped guide the Cardinals to the Class AA third-place title while solidifying her place as the most prolific skater to come from Coon Rapids.
In five seasons she collected 270 points and leads the record books in every major statistical category except for assists. Jillian Kobow’s 126 assists was the only mark Bona didn’t surpass as she fell 11 assists shy.
Bona finished 68 points ahead of Kobow, a 2006 graduate, and current coach and 2000 grad Christopherson (153). Her 165 career goals also leads runner-up Christopherson by 70 goals.
Bona owns two of the top three single-season points records, including 98 last season and 54 points in 2009-10. Her 46 points during the 2007-08 season ranks ninth all-time.
Her 59 goals last season is also a program best and she owns four of the top six totals in that category. Only Christopherson’s 30 goals in 1996-97 and 29 goals in 1998-99 broke up the top six spots. Bona’s 39 assists last season bettered Jillian Kobow’s 36 in 2004-05 and 35 in 2005-06 while her 21 helpers in 2009-10 was ninth on the all-time list.