With standout stars throughout the ice for Minnetonka the past two seasons, most notably University of Minnesota defenseman Maggie Nicholson, USA Hockey gold medalist Rory Guilday and Boston University's Lacey Martin, Brynn Dulac was a bit of an unsung hero between the pipes.
As a sophomore, five of her 11 wins came in post-season, a goals against average of 2.30 helping the Skippers place third at the state tournament.
As a junior, Dulac's numbers were even better. The Cornell University commit played all but 51 minutes of the 2019-20 season, winning 22 games, allowing just 53 goals on 688 shots. Minnetonka came up a goal short in the state semifinals, placing third again.
With 10 skaters graduating, just two of the top nine forwards returning, much of the Skippers' success, at least early on, will lie on the shoulders of Dulac.
In the season opener Jan. 14 versus Chaska/Chanhassen, the captain showed her team that's just fine.
"There's definitely a different team dynamic. We were a really close-knit group last year. We're going to get to that point again, but I think tonight we started off a little slow, as is to be expected. The girls were griping their sticks a little hard. As the game went on a lot of us gained a lot of confidence. You could see what is going to make so successful this season," Dulac said.
Scoreless through 34 minutes, both teams with dynamite chances, goaltenders Dulac and Clara Nelson of Chaska/Chanhassen standing tall, Minnetonka came alive in the third period.
Returning skater Grace Sadura cleaned up a pair of lying pucks around the crease for goals, while defensemen Lauren Goldsworthy, a freshman, and Lindsay Muench, a senior, scored their first varsity tallies for the 4-0 final.
Dulac said despite being one of four returning seniors to the varsity line-up, she still gets the pre-game nerves like she did as a sophomore.
"I definitely feel a lot of confidence in myself and in my team. I see a lot of the same players year after year and you really get to know where they like to put their shots," Dulac said.
Experience came into play twice in the third period for the Minnetonka goaltender, including once with the game scoreless, on breakaway attempts. Dulac was able to stop a first attempt from Storm Hawk eighth grader Claire Christopherson, and later on thwarting a shot from senior Jordyn Perlich.
"I definitely try to come out hard, take away shooting space, and make sure to look confident. I think players see that and it makes them think. It's about staying patient, keeping the puck in front of you. If you do that, you should be good on breakaways. I definitely have a lot of fun with those," Dulac said.
Both goaltenders stood out in the opener at Chaska Community Center. While Dulac was appearing in her 42nd career game, Nelson, a senior, was making her sixth start. Each came up big to post scoreless first and second periods.
Nelson, who won three of five starts as a junior, denied a 2-on-1 attempt with a sliding pad save just minutes in. Dulac deflected away a shot from the doorstep from Storm Hawks assistant captain Kaitlin Roberts. Elisabeth Gerebi's one-timer from in tight on a pass from behind the net was saved as well by Dulac.
It wasn't until the third period when Sadura, one of two varsity forwards returning (Kayley Crawford), finished off rebound opportunities from defensemen Guilday and Hanna Baskin to break the ice for Minnetonka.
Long shots from Goldsworthy and Muench beat Nelson through screens as well late in regulation. Nelson made 26 saves, 16 over the first two periods. Dulac stopped all 17 Chaska/Chanhassen shots for her 10th career shutout.
Both teams return to the ice on Saturday, Jan. 16 with the Storm Hawks hosting Bloomington Jefferson at 4 p.m. and Minnetonka with its home opener at Pagel Arena versus Alexandria at 2 p.m.