When the Mounds View girls' hockey team hit the ice for the 2012-13 opener, the Mustangs were on their third coaching staff in less than two seasons.
Turnover has not affected their performance. They went to state last season after Pete Aus replaced Tom Foley as coach. Though new coaches Aaron Moberg and Christina Hanson are behind the bench this season, No. 5 Mounds View (15-0-1) has made winning its constant.
"It was hard as we kept changing coaches but having all these girls in the locker room going through the same thing kind of helped," senior captain Lauren Klein said. "Coaches are going to change, and you're going to have hardships but you have to stick to it and work hard."
Brought in to propel a program rather than revitalize it, Moberg and Hanson tested players' work ethic with what Klein called "our hardest summer by far." Before last season, Mounds View had not reached a state tournament since 1999. Moberg and Hanson implored their new charges to work their way back once again.
"They made it very clear everyday on the ice that we have to prove we're something because we're not seen as anything," Klein said. "You have to make a statement if you want to be a statement."
Starting the season with three victories and the Irondale tournament championship, Mounds View added victories against fellow Suburban East Conference teams Cretin-Derham Hall and Hastings, both then ranked among the top 20.
The lone blemish was a 2-2 tie with White Bear Lake. It served as a teachable moment.
"We did not come ready to play," junior captain Bella Sutton said. "It was the first day of winter break, and I don't think we came in with the right mentality. We didn't bring our heart and character."
Hanson said the tie "definitely put a chip on our shoulder. We absolutely gave it up, and we learned we don't want that to happen again."
Rebounding in fine fashion, Mounds View won the Centennial tournament. A 4-2 victory against No. 8 Wayzata in the semifinals provided a signature victory.
"It's crazy," Sutton said of the team unbeaten start to the season. "But I do think our best hockey is yet to come."
Though largely anonymous to casual hockey observers, Mounds View's players bring myriad strengths. Sutton, a defenseman with 11 goals and 16 assists, gives the Mustangs an offensive element from the blue line. Klein paid freshman defensive partner Kristen Cash the ultimate compliment for a young player when she said, "I can trust her to have my back."
Young players anchor several key roles. Freshman Sydney Brodt centers two seniors on the top forward line and is second in scoring with 14 goals. Sophomores Emmy Michaelson and Maddy Quickstad and freshman Julia Unterseher bring speed and quickness to the second line.
In net, sophomore Mary Dingman and junior Paige Kittleson co-anchor a defense that has allowed just 19 goals.
The catalyst is senior wing Kathryn Larson. The 6-foot forward, who has drawn Division I interest, leads the team with 15 goals and 29 points. Her total value goes beyond numbers.
"She brings a presence," Hanson said. "She has size, strength and scoring ability. And she's a two-way player. You don't always see that from a team's best player."
Another stern test comes at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 10 Roseville. The Raiders reached the Class 2A title game last season and are led by Gophers recruit Kate Flug.
"That game is going to come down to works the hardest, who is going to play for each other and who is going to sell out," Klein said. "Like our coaches always ask, 'Who is going to block a shot for the girl standing next to them?'"
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574