By Shane Frederick
---- — MANKATO — Eric Means is entering his fifth season as coach of the Minnesota State women's hockey team, and selecting a captain hasn't been much of a problem for him.
Just three players have had Cs sewn on their sweaters in Means' tenure. This year, senior forward Kari Lundberg is the Mavericks' second straight two-year captain.
"She's just a natural, lead-by-example person," Means said. "I think she's more comfortable in that (captain's) role the second time through. She seems a lot more at ease right now than the last time around."
Lundberg, a center, had a lot to manage as a junior. Two years earlier, she had been part of an 11-player freshman class, Means' first full class of recruits. Ten of those players were still around, as were four seniors.
"You learn a lot, definitely, being a junior captain," she said. "You're still learning, but you have to be a good leader, and everyone's eyes are on you. I wasn't quite sure what to do, but I was more excited than nervous."
The Woodbury native had a mentor in another two-year captain and two-year teammate, Ariel Mackley, a 2012 graduate.
"She was my big sister," Lundberg said. "I looked up to her. I thought, if Ariel can do it, I can do it. I always talked to her a lot."
Said Means: "That's a great example. Mackley's a great person to model yourself after."
While Mackley made an impact on a young leader-in-the-making, Lundberg's hoping to leave her own impression.
The Mavericks are coming off their best season of the Means era, but they still had a record of 10-21-5. They struggled to score goals, getting shut out six times. Their top scorer, Lauren Smith, had 24 of the team's 69 goals (35 percent), graduated.
"It's our last year to leave a footprint," Lundberg said the eight seniors on this year's roster, "and leave a legacy for the next girls to take. ... We have all the tools to make a big statement. This is really our time to go for it."
Means said scoring will have to be "by committee" this season, and Lundberg is part of that group. She has played in 106 college games, more than anyone else on the roster, and has 13 career goals and 33 points.
After a nine-goal, 17-point sophomore year, her production slipped last season. Means said the pressures of being a captain might have had something to do with that.
"She didn't get much puck luck last year," Means said. "But she's strong and fast and she shoots hard. Her numbers didn't correlate to the type of player that she is."
Lundberg should get help from fellow senior Tracy McCann, who is the top returning scorer with 15 goals and 26 points last season. Kathleen Rogan, who came to MSU with Lundberg and McCann but is a junior due to a concussion-shortened second season, scored 20 points a season ago.
The improved health of Rogan and senior Nicole Germaine are keys, Means said, as is a position switch for senior Lauren Barnes, who scored 14 points as a defenseman last season. Another senior, goaltender Danielle Butters had a .913 save percentage and a 3.15 goals-against average, playing in 34 of MSU's 36 games.
"Danielle, she's got some fire," Means said. "She wasn't happy with the way the year ended. She has a little different zip to her."
While the Mavericks, who were picked to finish sixth in the eight-team Western Collegiate Hockey Association, have a strong senior class, Means expects to see a big jump by his second-year players. The freshman class has some local intrigue with Mankato East graduate Savannah Quandt, and Lundberg said the addition of new assistant coach Brett Bruininks has given the team a jolt of energy.
The Mavericks will open the season at 6:07 p.m. Friday at All Seasons Arena against seventh-ranked Mercyhurst. The two teams also play at 1:07 p.m. Saturday.