A new goalie, a core of returning players and a transfer have Blaine aspiring to conference and section titles.
Courtney Jensrud's journey to starting goaltender at Blaine offers good lessons for a program striving to fulfill its potential.
Tara Hoverstad's graduation left a void between the pipes. And Jens-rud, a senior with only two games of varsity experience in two years, was not exactly the heir apparent. It takes something special to play goalie at Blaine, which has produced five Division I stoppers under coach Steve Guider.
"Guider drilled it into my head all summer, 'We have a strong core but no starting goalie so you have to fight for it,'" Jensrud said. "So I spent a lot of time mentally and physically preparing to be the starting goalie, never letting myself think I would automatically get it.
"I like when people tell me I need to step up. It makes me want to show them I can do it."
Her teammates can relate. The Bengals, featuring solid returning players supplemented by a talented transfer, are in the hunt for the Northwest Suburban Conference and the Class 2A, Section 5 titles. Motivation is no problem. Mounds View eliminated Blaine in the section final last season.
"We are looking to repeat last year and go farther," junior forward Kiersten Falck said. "But we're not focusing on the long term right now. We're focusing on playing well every game because that will lead to the end of the year."
Falck said a season-opening 4-1 loss to Edina, which included a 3-1 deficit after the first period, "told us we're not as good as we think we are."
Jensrud commanded the blame, saying, "They got three easy goals on me. It wasn't my players' fault. I let my nerves get the best of me."
Guider went easier on his goaltender, using the word "poor" to describe only one of her goals allowed. Guider and Jensrud watched video from the Edina game to spot little errors and develop consistency.
"She had some tremendous big-save-making ability," said Guider, noting a breakaway stop of Edina's dangerous Taylor Williamson. "But she'll make a few great saves and then it's, 'How did that one go in?'"
Last year, Jensrud joined Hoverstad on the ice for movement drills five minutes before teammates started practice. Guider can peek out from the coach's locker room now and see Jensrud doing the same.
"She's really embracing the position and working harder at practice," Guider said. "I like the way she's preparing herself. And I like her burning desire to keep the puck out of the net."
Despite scoring only one goal against Edina, Blaine was only out-shot 21-18. Falck was encouraged by her team's offensive potential, which received a boost from transfer defenseman Amy Schlagel.
Schlagel, a junior, compiled 40 goals and 44 assists during her Coon Rapids career. Her offensive prowess is expected to mesh well with the top line of Falck (14 goals, 32 assists last season) and twin sisters Samantha Swanstrom (22-12) and Katie Swanstrom (13-11).
"It was just a good change for me," Schlagel said of trading Cardinal red for Bengal blue. "We're all pretty close now, and it's been really fun."
Said Falck: "I hated playing against her because she moved around so well and always made plays. It's nice to bring that to our team."
Schlagel helped Coon Rapids to state in 2011 and hopes to make the trip with her new teammates. After falling just short last season, Falck has her eye on redemption.
"We expect a lot out of ourselves," Falck said. "You want to put that dream out there but make sure you're working on it every day."