Calla Frank doesn’t have to prove herself to her coaches and teammates.
The Minnesota State University junior goaltender has their respect and has more than earned their trust with her performance over her first two seasons as a Maverick.
But those teammates and coaches would like to give Frank a little more support, at least when it comes to the scoreboard.
Producing more offense has been a goal for the Mavericks in recent seasons, and it’s the same this year. MSU was fifth in the conference in goals scored a year ago (1.90 per game), but the Mavericks hope that number will trend upward in the 2021-22 season, which begins at 5 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Saturday with a non-conference series at Merrimack (link to the livestream of the games here).
“You have to be ready every night in our league,” Mavericks head coach John Harrington, who is entering his seventh season at MSU, said. “Whatever night you play, you see outstanding opponents. You have to be ready. That’s the beauty and the great thing about playing in the WCHA. You know every night you’re playing against one of the best teams in the country.
“We’re trying to take a step every year, move up, get a little bit closer and learn what it takes to be one of the top teams in the league.”
Seven of MSU’s top nine scorers from a year ago are back, led by sophomore forward Jamie Nelson from Andover. Nelson led the team in points (15), tied with Kelsey King for the team lead in goals (8) and tied with Brittyn Fleming for the team lead in assists (7). King and Fleming return, too, after being the Mavericks second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, last season.
In other words, MSU has plenty of reason to believe that the scoreboard will be in its favor more often this season.
“Our practices have been good so far and we’re super excited to get going,” said Nelson, a 5-foot-8 left-shot forward. “We’ve playing a lot of 5-on-5, scoring some goals and getting ready for game day. We have a solid three or four lines that we can rely on. That’s important so we can keep up our pace during games. We can’t do that with just two lines. We need three or four lines to contribute.”
The Mavericks finished 7-12-1 overall last season and missed the WCHA playoffs field, which was cut to just four teams to guard against any potential delays or cancellations due to the COVID-19 virus.
With Frank, a former standout at White Bear Lake High School who was named the state’s Senior Goaltender of the Year in 2019, in goal, the Mavericks can play with confidence in their own end. She was 6-10-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage last season.
“She’s someone who always gives us an opportunity to win,” Harrington said. “She’s had great experiences with the U.S. National Team Program the past couple of summers and… whether our team is right on or a little bit off -- sometimes, for us, it’s not about how good you are when you’re good, it’s about how good you are when you’re not so good -- and I think Calla always (thrives on) her opportunities when we’re not so good (in front of her).”
Senior captains Anna Wilgren and Jessica Kondas lead an experienced defensive corps.
Wilgren has 41 points in 88 career games, placing her third on the all-time defensemen scoring list at MSU. Kondas, along with senior forward Fleming, is one of two Mavericks who took advantage of a fifth season of eligibility that was offered to all athletes by the NCAA, due to the unstable nature of last season while dealing with COVID protocols, delays and cancellations.
Nelson, Fleming, King and sophomores Sydney Langseth (3-4--7) and Madison Mashuga (2-2--4) will lead the way up front for MSU.
“Sydney, we appreciated how good of a player she was last year, but I don’t think she got the recognition she deserved,” Harrington said. “She can create offense and make plays and her head-to-hand skills are really fast. She sees a play and will make that play very quickly.
“Maddie Mashuga, she was a Swiss Army knife for us. We could use her in any situation. … She thinks the game and plays the game well.”
The Mavericks have a small freshman class of just four players this season -- defenseman Jayden Seifert (Farmington, Minn.) and forwards Shelbi Guttormson (Shattuck St. Mary’s), Alexis Paddington (Thunder Bay, Ontario) and Jessica Boland (Northfield).
“We all work on developing offense and doing the little things we need to do -- get pucks to the net, get bodies to the net,” Harrington said. “Also, developing that confidence in the ability to deliver in key situations in games.
“We need to take a step up in our defensive play, too, be more consistent. We had moments last year where we did a good job. We need to do that consistently this year.”