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Hannah Behounek a defensive gem for RPI Engineers

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Having first established herself as one to watch while competing at the high school level in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Hannah Behounek’s sensational skills resulted in three consecutive state championships. Considering that Minnesota, also known as the State of Hockey, is a power plant, producing elite talent at the high school level, ready to excel at the collegiate level, Behounek certainly emerged as a prized recruit.

As Behounek brought her skills to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, she was part of an abundance of talent from the State of Hockey that spread into other parts of the country. This embarrassment of riches has proven to be a tremendous boon for programs in both the ECAC and Hockey East. Fittingly, Behounek was not the only member of the RPI Engineers 2017 senior class to have her hockey roots in the Midwest.
Three other distinguished competitors joined Behounek in said class, highlighted by fellow Minnesotan Katie Rooney, whose uncle also played hockey at RPI. Raised in Buffalo, Minnesota, she was a two-sport star in high school, akin to Behounek. While Rooney was also captain of the Buffalo High School soccer team, Behounek served as captain for Minnetonka High School’s golf team. Both ECAC All-Academic selections during their treasured time as Engineers’ teammate, both have also shared in the honor of capturing the team’s Most Improved Player Award. Behounek would win it first in 2014, while Rooney achieved the feat two years later in 2016. As a side note, Rooney would also capture RPI’s 2017 Perseverance Award.

The other seniors that donned the Engineers colors were the team’s co-captains. Having sharpened her skills at the Gilmore Academy, Lindsey Hylwa grew up in North Carolina, adding to the state’s growing legacy of elite women’s ice hockey talent. Laura Horwood, the only Canadian-born competitor on the senior class finished the season as the Engineers’ leading scorer. Prior to joining the program, the alumna of the Durham West Junior Lightning was also part of Team Ontario Blue’s roster that captured their first-ever gold medal at the Canadian Under-18 women’s nationals, achieving the feat in 2012.

Contributing towards the Engineers amassing over 35 wins in four seasons and back-to-back playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017, senior night would serve as the culmination of a fantastic run shared together between Behounek and Rooney, while remaining faithful to their Minnesota hockey roots. Hosting the Harvard Crimson in a February 11 matchup, one point separated these two clubs for the last playoff spot in the ECAC Conference. Whitney Renn would score twice, including the game-winning tally, while Rooney was the only senior who placed her name on the scoresheet, gaining an assist on a second period power play goal by Shayna Tomlinson, as the Engineers prevailed by a 4-1 final.

“I was very happy to hear Katie Rooney would be one of my teammates at RPI. Being in the same high school conference, I played Katie’s team every year. I knew she was a great player and person and would be successful in college hockey.

Senior night was a great memory for me – not only was my family there but it was a big game for our team in terms of making playoffs. It was basically a must-win if we still wanted to have a shot at making playoffs, so not only was it my last college hockey game at home, it was a big win for the team as a whole.”

Reflecting on her time at RPI, Behounek is also proud of her achievements off the ice. Highly studious, she graduated from Minnetonka as a Summa cum laude. Finishing the 2015-16 season as an ECAC All-Academic recipient, she also set a standard of excellence among the university’s student-athletes by earning the honor of being named to the Dean’s List. Majoring in Sustainability Studies, her senior thesis focused on recycling.

Although there was an obligatory learning curve as a freshman, Behounek accepted it as a personal challenge, working assiduously to develop the discipline to balance both obligations with peerless results. Emerging the stronger for it, the achievement of managing both hockey with such great academic achievement stands as the hallmark of her proud career with the Engineers.

Learning to balance hockey and academics did not come naturally for me as I struggled a bit freshman year. But with the help of the coaches and my teammates I learned how to become more successful on the ice and in the classroom. The coaches do a great job understanding how demanding academics at RPI is and making considerations when players have class conflicts. The team is also great at supporting each other in the classroom. As a freshman, it is very likely that multiple upperclassmen are in the same major as you, so have taken all the classes before. Girls are always super willing to help you out in classes or with certain subjects."

Carving a body of work as a defensive stalwart for the RPI Engineers, appearing in more than 30 games in each of the last three seasons, Behounek’s durability was complemented by flashes of brilliance on offense during her senior campaign. With an injury riddled season for the program, her efforts resulted in a highly welcomed versatility. In addition to bolstering the blueline, she provided a positive presence with a solid series of offensive numbers.

Recording a goal in the Engineers opening match of the season, a 3-1 win against the Maine Black Bears on September 24, 2016, Behounek also put together a nifty three-game scoring streak. Lasting from October 7-14, the first and third game resulted in goals against the Robert Morris Colonials and Connecticut Huskies, while the second game in between was sandwiched by an assist.
By season’s end, Behounek would rank sixth in overall team scoring, while pacing all blueliners, respectively. She was also the second leading scorer among the Engineers’ seniors, trailing only Laura Horwood, who paced the entire roster with 19 points.  Enhancing such a season was the fact that she established herself as a key performer on special teams, recording four power play goals.

In spite of going scoreless on senior night, Behounek still left her mark. Scoring a goal in her final regular season game, a February 18 tilt against the Princeton Tigers in conference play, it was an ideal bookend, as she also scored in the opening game of the season. After a scoreless first period for the Engineers, Shayna Tomlinson would capitalize on a power play opportunity at the 3:01 mark of the second. A little over 12 minutes later, Behounek would give the Engineers their first lead of the game, slipping the puck past behind Tigers backstop Stephanie Neatby, as Makenna Thomas and Sabrina Repaci gained the assists.

For a young defensive corps that includes the likes of Kendra Farole, Josefine Hansen, Kristen Iwanski and Ana Orzechowski, Behounek emerged as a role model, setting the positive example for them to emulate in the seasons to come. A significant part of her leadership shined through in discussing her offensive breakthrough, as she acknowledged the tireless efforts of number one goaltender, Lovisa Selander. Having played with SDE Riksserien in Sweden, Selander assembled a number of valiant performances throughout the season, including 49 saves against the Tigers on February 18, helping the team remain in the conversation for a postseason berth.

“I was obviously very proud of this accomplishment. Most of my goals came during the power play, so I owe much of the credit to the other four girls on the ice as well. Unfortunately many of our forwards struggled with some bad injuries over the season which forced the defense to step up and be a little more offensive.

It also helped to have such a solid goalie behind us in Lovisa Selander. We relied on her so heavily which allowed the defensemen to be able to take some more offensive chances.”

In addition, Behounek managed a second straight season with double digits in points. Attaining a career high in goals, which also led all blueliners on the Engineers roster, she actually doubled the combined goals total from her sophomore and junior seasons, reflecting an admirable all-around effort that made her one of the roster’s most important players. Also showing some grit, Behounek was the sandpaper for the team, recording a team high 46 penalty minutes.

Throughout such an eventful season, another event that stood out as a cherished highlight included Behounek’s final game against the Quinnipiac Bobcats. The connection between Behounek and Quinnipiac actually holds roots during her formative years at Minnetonka. Capturing three state championships (2011-13), along with All-Conference honors in 2012 and 2013, Behounek would be joined by four other members of this dynastic team at the NCAA level.

Among them was Laura Bowman, a Big Ten All-Academic who served as captain with Penn State. Amy Petersen would join Bowman at Penn State, registering over 100 points. Remaining in her home state, Sidney Morin donned the colors of the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The remaining player would hold the most unique distinction, becoming a collegiate rival of Behounek. Goaltender Sydney Rossman stood between the pipes for the Quinnipiac Bobcats, breaking numerous program records. As a side note, when Behounek and Rooney both made their ECAC playoff debuts in 2016, there was a feeling of serendipity, as their opponents consisted of Rossman protecting the Bobcats crease.

Prior to the tilt with the Tigers, the second last regular season game brought Behounek on the road to Hamden, Connecticut, competing against Rossman’s Bobcats. While Selander would provide another courageous effort, facing an astounding 52 shots, compared to a mere 15 for Rossman, such a tale of the tape was an indicator of the final score, a 5-0 victory for the Bobcats. In spite of the loss, the chance to face Rossman one more time at such a late juncture in the season helped bring her career full circle.

Playing in three state tournaments, which consisted of many close games, really gave me experience in playing in high-pressure situations. My high school seasons are a very special and fond memory for me. The team I played for was very successful, so being able to play and win with the kids I grew up playing with was one of the best experiences.

My class had four other girls going to play division one hockey, so it was cool to track their seasons and successes over the years. I was lucky enough to be in the same conference as Sydney Rossman, who played for Quinnipiac, so that was always one of my favorite weekends when I was able to play and see her. I did not get to play against the other three: Laura Bowman, Amy Petersen, and Sidney Morin, but they all had extremely successful careers so it was fun to watch.”

Images supplied by Hannah Behounek

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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