John Harrington didn’t mince words when talking about where his team needs to improve most from a year ago.
“We’d like to see better offensive production out of our team, not necessarily from a few individuals, but by committee,” said Harrington, who is entering his sixth season as the Minnesota State University women’s hockey head coach. “I’m hoping we can be a better offensive team this year.”
MSU averaged 1.9 goals per game a year ago, when it finished 11-20-6 overall and 4-16-4 in the WCHA. But Harrington sees plenty of reason to believe that the Mavericks can improve not only their offensive production, but their record, too, despite playing in the toughest conference in women’s college hockey.
MSU returns four of its top five and eight of its top 10 scorers from last season. That group includes last season’s leading scorer Anna Wilgren, a junior defenseman and the team captain, who had six goals and 24 points, as well as second-leading scorer Kelsey King, an Elk River native who had six goals and 22 points as a freshman.
“Kelsey is a very good offensive player,” Harrington said. “She was maybe a better offensive player than her numbers showed last year, when I think of her ability. She won us a couple extra points (in the WCHA standings) in shootouts and overtimes.
“She’s a big-time player and when the pressure is on she wants to be in that position. She has a thirst for knowledge. She wants to become a better player and wants to learn about the game.”
The MSU coaching staff gets its first chance to see the 2020-21 version of the Mavericks in action Friday and Saturday, when No. 8-ranked Minnesota Duluth comes to Mankato for a two-game series at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center.
“The past two weeks we’ve had an uptick in intensity in practice once we found out we’d be opening the season this weekend, hosting UMD,” Harrington said. “As it gets closer, the excitement builds and we’re looking forward to getting out on the ice and playing a game.”
MSU’s other top returning scorers include senior forwards Brittyn Fleming (18 points) and Mariah Gardner (16). Senior defenseman Tristen Truax and junior forward Claire Butorac return, too, after putting up 12 points each last season.
While Harrington expects that core group to lead the way offensively, he knows who the Mavericks’ biggest strength will be on the back end.
Sophomore goalie Calla Frank, a White Bear Lake High School graduate, had a standout freshman season while splitting time with Abigail Levy in 2019-20. Frank, the 2019 Minnesota Senior Goaltender of the Year, had a 6-8-3 record with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage in 19 games as a MSU freshman, when she was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team.
Harrington said the net belongs to Frank this season, with freshmen Emerald Kelley (an East Ridge H.S. graduate) and Lauren Barbro (Shattuck St. Mary’s) backing her up.
“Calla will be our starter,” Harrington said of Frank, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2018 U18 World Championships in Russia. “She was up at the U.S. national team camp in Blaine a couple of weeks ago. She’s a tremendously skilled player and someone who leads by example in goal.
“Our players feed off her energy and commitment to playing her position as best she can.”
MSU, which placed sixth in the seven-team WCHA last season, knows it has its work cut out for it on a nightly basis, with four of the top eight teams in the national poll calling the WCHA home, including No. 1-ranked Wisconsin. But Harrington said the Mavericks’ energy and excitement just to have a season will be beneficial.
“Once the schedule came out and we saw that we had games, the players knew they could get more into a rhythm that they’re used to,” he said of the delayed start to this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our players are like horses in the starting gate, banging around and we can’t keep them in there. Once they’re in there, they want to get out and run and we’re excited they get a chance to run this weekend.”
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MEET THE MAVS
The 2020-21 Minnesota State University women’s hockey roster
Seniors — F Brittyn Fleming (Oregon, Wis.); F Mariah Gardner (Eagle Lake, Ontario); F Taylor Gulenchyn (Stillwater); D Jessica Kondas (Calgary, Alberta); D Tristen Truax (Shakopee). Juniors — F Claire Butorac (Andover); F Brooke Bryant (Linden, Calif.); F Madison Oelkers (Warroad); D Taylor Wemple (Maplewood); D Anna Wilgren (Hudson, Wis.). Sophomores — D Charlotte Akervik (Eau Claire, Wis.); F Kennedy Bobyck (Regina, Sask.); F Danielle England (South Lyon, Mich.); G Calla Frank (Hugo); D Lyndsey Howard (Savage); F Kelsey King (Elk River). Freshmen — G Lauren Barbro (Loudonville, N.Y.); F Brooke Hubert (Oceanside, N.Y.); G Emerald Kelley (Hastings); F Sydney Langseth (Eden Prairie); F Madison Mashuga (Andover); F Journey Miller (Soldotna, Alaska); D Ellen Nelson (Wyoming, Minn.); F Jamie Nelson (Andover).
Head coach: John Harrington (sixth season; 35-122-2 overall). Associate head coach: Jeff Giesen (sixth season). Assistant coach: Shari Dickerman (12th season).
LINING UP THE SEASON
The WCHA announced its women’s hockey schedule through the end of the calendar year. The remainder of the schedule will be released at a later date. MSU’s known schedule so far:
Nov. 20 — Minnesota Duluth (6:07 p.m.)
Nov. 21 — Minnesota Duluth (3:07 p.m.)
Nov. 27 — at St. Cloud State (6:07 p.m.)
Nov. 28 — at St. Cloud State (3:07 p.m.)
Dec. 4 — at Bemidji State (6:07 p.m.)
Dec. 5 — at Bemidji State (6:07 p.m.)
Dec. 17 — Bemidji State (6:07 p.m.)
Dec. 18 — Bemidji State (3:07 p.m.)