The 2016-17 Mandan girls hockey team put together the most successful season in program history, closing out the campaign with a third-place finish in the state tournament.
The 2017-18 Braves are without four key players from last year's team, but coach Matt Strinden sees no reason why they can't enjoy the same kind of success.
"We have a lot of girls back, plus we have some girls up from our youth program who we think are really going to help us," Strinden said. "We had a great year last year and the girls who are back have high expectations. Playing well in the state tournament was huge for this program ... we definitely want to go back."
The Braves opened the new season on a low note, losing to Minot 6-3 on Nov. 21. One week later, however, they got in the win column with a 3-2 overtime victory over Dickinson in a statewide game played at the Starion Sports Complex. Freshman forward Emily Froelich collected a rebound near the Dickinson net and scored a power-play goal 14 seconds into the overtime period for the game-winner.
Sophomore Justyne Mehlhoff and seventh-grader Maci Berg also scored for the Braves, who outshot the Midgets 34-22.
"I think we bounced back from last week's loss and played a solid game tonight," Strinden said. "Actually, I thought we played well against Minot -- the game was much closer than the final score. We learned from it and definitely showed improvement tonight. We beat a good team. Dickinson has good numbers this year and a good coach. They're a program on the rise."
It didn't take the Braves long to light the lamp on Tuesday night, with Mehlhoff scoring on a putback just 2:19 into the contest. However, the Midgets evened the score at 1-1 3:25 later on a power-play goal by Madison McChesney.
It would stay that way until the 14:59 mark of the third period, when Dickinson's Taia Klaman broke into the clear and fired the puck into the top shelf over Mandan goaltender Autumn Sheetz's left shoulder. The lead didn't last long as Berg netted an unassisted goal with 13 minutes remaining in regulation.
Both teams had quality chances to win it before the third period expired, but Sheetz, an eighth-grader, and Dickinson goaltender Baylee Kram stood firm.
"Both goaltenders played exceptionally well tonight," Strinden said. "It was really exciting to see Autumn play as well as she did. This is her first year and she replaces a very good goaltender (Lucy Morgan), so she has some big shoes to fill. She had a rough opener last week, but she came back with a nice effort tonight. She made some critical saves out there."
Sheetz finished with 21 saves, while Kram made 31 stops.
The Braves are on the road this weekend, taking on Fargo North-South-Shanley on Friday, and West Fargo on Saturday.