It's homecoming week at Minnesota State and Mankato East High School, so it's fitting that Rebekah Kolstad will be playing her first home game as a member of the Minnesota State women's hockey team.
Kolstad, a junior forward, transferred to her hometown college after the University of North Dakota dropped the sport in stunning fashion last spring. Kolstad played two seasons for the Fighting Hawks after a standout prep career at East.
"Even when I was a visitor, it was always fun to have a home crowd here and have family and friends all come," Kolstad said after practice Wednesday at the Verizon Center. "So hopefully, family and friends and the community make it out for our first home series."
Kolstad played her first game as a Maverick on Saturday, a 2-2 overtime tie at Lindenwood (Missouri). She missed Friday's season-opener, a 4-1 MSU victory, due to a Western Collegiate Hockey Association suspension stemming from a game-disqualification penalty in North Dakota's last-ever game.
"It was good," she said of Saturday's game in which she didn't register a point but was plus-1 and had four shots on goal. "It was good to get the first game out of the way — learn how the team plays, systems, stuff like that. ... (Friday) was hard; it was really hard to watch. I've never watched a game. I was really anxious in the stands, but it was fun to get out there Saturday."
Kolstad pflayed in all 73 of North Dakota's games the last two seasons. After recording two assists as a freshman, she scored six goals as a sophomore — a total that would have put her second on MSU's roster last season — and had 11 points. The 5-foot-10 winger also had 45 penalty minutes last year, 26 as a rookie.
"Everybody can see — on our team and on our staff —that Rebekah brings something to the team that we haven't had," Mavericks coach John Harrington said. "She's a big, strong presence. She uses her body well to protect the puck. We'll use her in all situations. She's a good hockey player, and we're happy to have her here."
Kolstad said she's getting the hang of things in her new home.
"It's easy to transition with the friendships and stuff like that. That's the easy part," she said. "But learning new systems and learning how they play, that's been kind of tough because it's been drilled in my brain for the past last two years how to play, and now things are changing a little. ... But it's getting better as the season is starting out now."
As a high school player, Kolstad compiled 233 points for the Cougars and was recruited by Minnesota State, among other colleges. But she opted to go to North Dakota, committing during her junior year.
When North Dakota cut women's hockey last March as a part of a significant cut to its athletics budget, players with eligibility remaining scattered throughout the country. Kolstad was the only player to land at Minnesota State. Robert Morris, the team the Mavericks will face this weekend, also has a UND refugee, sophomore forward Sarah LeCavalier. Kolstad said she still keeps in touch with those players and will face more of them when the Mavericks play St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Boston University.
"We're all going through the same thing, all learning new systems," Kolstad said. "So it's been nice having people to talk to."
Kolstad is wearing No. 22, the same number she wore in high school and the same worn by her brother, Isaac Kolstad, when he played football at Minnesota State after transferring from North Dakota State. The number was used in a symbol of support for him when in recovery from a downtown-Mankato assault in 2014 that left him with permanent injuries. Rebekah wore 44 at North Dakota.
Minnesota State will host Robert Morris at 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday at the Verizon Center.