Aside from a load of skill and experience, the Blake girls' hockey team has some strong motivation powering it this season.
The Bears are playing in honor of longtime coach Brano Stankovsky, who died last spring from complications after suffering a stroke. Stankovsky is still very much in players' thoughts.
"Every day," senior forward Dani Cameranesi said. "Me and him were pretty close, but I think all of us have that mentality that we want to do it for him this year."
Stankovsky was honored in Blake's first home game this season. A banner hangs in the rink and the girls wear a patch on their uniforms in memory of him.
"He's clearly a big part of the Blake girls' association and getting that all going," Cameranesi said.
So the Bears play on for new coach Shawn Reid while remembering their old friend. Reid says the seniors have all handled the transition well and have been great to work with.
That feeling is mutual.
"He's done a really good job this year," Cameranesi said of Reid. "He's put together a bunch of lines that work really well together, and he's established a really good team dynamic from the get-go. We all have goals that we want to reach, and he's helping us get there."
One of those goals is a conference championship, which the Bears are in good position to accomplish. Blake sits at the top of the standings with a 7-0-1 conference record and a 15-4-3 overall mark after defeating Minneapolis on Saturday to extend a seven-game winning streak.
When it comes to scoring goals, there's arguably no better threat than Cameranesi. The senior's 42 goals are the fourth most in the state. Her 27 assists raise her point total to 69 through just 20 games.
Cameranesi, a Gophers recruit, has recorded seven hat tricks and two four-goal games.
Skill, speed, strength and a great shot, complemented with a tenacious defensive mentality, make Cameranesi a well-rounded and complete player. She is considered a top candidate to be named this year's Ms. Hockey as the state's best senior.
"It's clear that Dani is far and away the best player -- in my mind -- in the state," Reid said.
"I haven't seen anybody as good as Dani in the state thus far. She is absolutely amazing."
Karlie Lund's 16 goals and 27 assists give her 43 points as the team's second-highest scorer. Jordan Chancellor has tallied 27 points. Both Lund and Chancellor have played most of the season on a line with Cameranesi.
"It's kind of a pick your poison," Reid said. "Do you try to shut down Dani? If you do, well, then we have other players who can score. If you don't focus on Dani, she'll eat her opponents alive."
Reid has the luxury this season of playing eight seniors, all of whom take on significant roles. Blake also has some juniors, sophomores, freshmen and even an eighth-grader to help fill out its lineup.
Maddy Hall and Ali Ahn lead statistically from the blue line. Hall has notched 17 points while Ahn is right behind with 16. Senior goaltender Tori Johnson has backstopped the Bears with a 15-4-2 record.
"We have a bunch of experience," Cameranesi said. "We know what to expect and we know how we're supposed to play."
To reach the state tournament in March, the Bears will have to battle top opponents Breck and Orono in the section playoffs.
"Obviously, it's every team's dream to go to state, but we have to take it one game at a time," Cameranesi said.