BISMARCK, N.D. — Familiar faces fill the ice for the Mandan Braves. After graduating only one senior following last season, this year’s veteran squad is using their chemistry and experience to build off of a top finish in the WDA in the 2022-23 season.

“In high school hockey, just having that experience helps a lot,” senior Kenlee Edland says. “A lot of us have been playing since we started playing hockey. I know I’ve been playing with these girls ever since I started playing, so we’re very close.”

“It’s very strong,” senior Mallory Brahos adds. “Most of the girls have been playing together for so many years, especially the seniors that have been playing together. And even some of the younger girls have been playing on the same team. It’s so easy for them just to know what to do, and who they’re playing with, and how to go.”

For head coach Ben Hertz, this season is unlike any other as he enters his fifth year at the helm. The Mandan team’s connection is showcased on the ice, aiding in the program’s development.

“You can see it at practice,” Hertz says. “You can see it over the summer, they just know where to do. You can see they just feed off each other now. It’s almost repetitive without them knowing, so the passing and offensive capabilities have grown tremendously.”

Last year’s top finish in the WDA was part of the best season under Hertz, but the Braves see it as just the beginning. With a top finishing in the west being a measuring stick for the program, the focus is to build off of it and make it a constant each season.

“Being at the top, it really proved to us that we can do it,” senior Madison Hertz says. “We just have to continue to work hard and not be scared of anything.”

“It’s one thing to be a flash in the pan and it’s one thing because you have some older girls, maybe some seniors that have been together for a really long tie and can click,” Ben Hertz adds. “But, we want to keep repeating. We want to keep maintaining and that’s why our underclassmen are working so hard and learning from our older classmen.”

Now the hope is to make a bigger leap in the state tournament. With the idea that they will win a few games along the way.

“We now know what it feels like to be there,” Edland says. “Everybody on the team pretty much, besides a couple of girls, know what it’s like to play in that state atmosphere, and know what it takes to be up at the top, and win games at state.”

“Knowing how that feels and how disappointed we were, is going to be a final test or push to see how bad we really want it,” Madison Hertz adds. “We know what it feels like to be on the losing end, and we’re going to try as hard as we can to be on the winning end.”

The Braves state tournament quest continues on November 28th in their home opener against Dickinson. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. central time.