Braves first chance at state
By Lou Babiarz
Each of the past two years, the Mandan girls hockey team went into the final game of the regular season with a chance to earn its first ever state tournament berth, only to come up short.
That’s not going to be a problem this year.
On Feb. 1 the Braves clinched their trip to Ralph Engelstad Arena.
For Mandan’s only two seniors, Shaylynn Mack and Jordyn Bossert, that moment couldn’t have come soon enough.
“We’ve worked really hard at this. In previous years, it’s been a push to finally get to state, and now it’s finally here,” Mack, Mandan’s senior captain, said.
Each of the last two years, Williston denied Mandan a trip to state in the regular-season finale.
“It was really frustrating, really hard,” Mack said. “Lots of tears.”
The Mandan program is in its 10th season, and it has been its best. The Braves are 6-8 in statewide play, breaking the record for league wins they set last year. Overall, Mandan is 7-10, one shy of school record of eight victories it set in 2011-12.
“You can see the confidence grow, that they know they can compete,” coach Dewitt Mack, Shaylynn’s father, said. “Every night they go out there, there’s always a chance to win. Years past, that wasn’t always the case.”
Bossert, an assistant captain, said that confidence has been hard-won.
“We have a really young team, but we all have the will to want to win,” she said. “… It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of morning practices, a lot of hours.”
That will to win was evident on Dec. 13, when the Braves scored a 3-1 win over Williston. Mandan was outshot 46-15, but thanks to a big effort from goalie Chelsey Norton and some opportunistic play, the Braves prevailed.
“I knew all of our girls, it was in us,” Shaylynn Mack said. “We just needed to bring it out and really show that we have the skill and the talent and the heart for it.”
Mandan’s defense has tightened up this season. The Braves’ netminders – sophomores Norton and Sara Zachmeier – are giving up 3.60 goals per game. Their previous low was 5.20 in 2010-11.
“We’ve got a good group of defensemen, and we’ve got two decent goalies,” coach Mack said. “They’re doing the nice job of preventing the rebounds, and we don’t give up a lot of second chances.”
Shaylynn Mack has played a key role on the defense.
“She’s may not be the fastest girl out there, but she’s going to give you everything she’s got,” coach Mack said. “She gets after it in the defensive zone. She bodies up well. If you get one shot, you’re not going to get a second one.”
The Braves also continue to improve on offense. Last year the Braves set a team record with 2.42 goals per game. This year it’s up to 3.33 per game.
“We’ve gotten way better at passing and being more aggressive. We’ve definitely gotten better at shooting more,” Bossert said.
“We kind of view ourselves as junkyard dogs,” coach Mack said. “We pick up the garbage around the net. If there’s a puck laying there, we’ve got girls flying.
“Before the game, we say, ‘If you don’t end up in the net, you didn’t go hard enough.’ That’s their tenacity. That’s how hard they go.”
Bossert said the Braves take pride in their ability to score dirty goals, but she also adds an element of quickness to Mandan’s top line.
“Jordyn brings a lot of speed and a lot of tenacity,” coach Mack said. “She has been one of our fastest girls the last four years. Just his year, she’s coming into her own and working very well with her linemates.”
The good news for Mandan is that the future looks bright, with numbers rising in the youth programs. Don’t expect this first state tournament berth to be the last.
“We’ve got the girls moving in the right direction,” coach Mack said.