If she keeps this up, Haley Mack might be looking at an endorsement deal with McDonald's soon. Call it a "Mack attack". The ingredients - some speed, a splash of accuracy, skill and a whole lot of determination.
All three have been on display this season. Mack entered last weekend with a streak of three straight games with at least two goals. More importantly for her and her teammates, after beginning the season 0-9-1 last year Bemidji State is 3-4-1 overall and 2-2 in the WCHA. The Beavers didn't pick up their third win until Nov. 30 last season.
The East Grand Forks, Minn., native's seven points through eight games this season leads BSU. Her six goals rank eighth in the WCHA. It's the quickest race to six goals in her career and she is just five shy of her career mark in goals scored in a season. She registered 11 markers in the 2017-18 campaign as a sophomore.
"I haven't thought too much about it," commented Mack, when asked about her sizzling start. "It's nice to get recognition but we still have a long season to go; I'm not going to get too high or too low."
She knows more than most about what those peaks and valleys feel like.
Last season as a junior and in her first game of the year against Clarkson, Mack experienced the lowest of the low. Midway through the battle the speedster felt something in her knee, and it wasn't good. What followed was the reality that her MCL was torn and instead of practice and games, her reality became doctor appointments, rehab and patience. Lots and lots of patience.
What followed was a hectic season for Mack filled with baby steps in the right direction followed by significant setbacks. Five games out then 16 games back. Eight games out followed by four in uniform. Mack finished her junior campaign against Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA playoffs. She sat out the first game and played the second. Despite the fact that she never returned to 100 percent during the roller coaster ride, when Mack was in the line-up, she did what she always does, she scored.
After returning to the lineup and playing in her longest stretch of games (16) before being sidelined again due to injury, she scored five goals and added two assists. When she returned for four more battles in February 2019 against St. Cloud State and Minnesota, Mack tallied two goals and added an assist. Even with her team's back tothe wall against the Bulldogs in a do-or-die game two last March in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, she scored one of the Beavers' three goals giving her eight on the year. Mack ended up scoring in 50 percent of the games she played in. When she played last year, the Beavers were 10-11-1 and when she scored, BSU was 6-3. When she was out of the line-up Bemidji State went 3-10-1.
The numbers don't lie. The determination head coach Jim Scanlan and his team saw on their teammates face during Mack's recovery and journey back to the ice for the 2019-20 year didn't lie either.
"I just kept encouraging her," Scanlan said. "She is one of the most competitive people I have ever met so I knew she was going to do everything she could to get herself back in. I told her probably the biggest thing was going to be mental; that's always a big hurdle for any athlete when they get injured. Really, I didn't have to say a whole lot to her."
It's one of the reasons why with each of her six early-season goals this year, Scanlan and his squad have probably celebrated more than Mack herself. For a blue-collar program that models themselves after the legendary northern Minnesota grit that goes hand in hand with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Mack's return to prominence fits right in. It serves as an example to all that sometimes things may not go as planned but you have to keep fighting. That your first shot may hit the post or miss the net altogether but that doesn't mean you should stop shooting.
"First of all, I was really proud of her," Scanlan added. "I think she dedicated herself to the offseason and came in here in really good shape. She has always been extremely fast. It's kind of interesting because I think a lot of people are surprised with how fast she is because she doesn't have that picture-perfect stride but from point A to point B she is unbelievable. She is so hard on pucks. I'm just extremely proud of her doing what she did and it's great to see her off to a really hot start for us."
"To see her excelling and finding success putting the puck in the net, it's nice," added BSU senior Heather Olson. "We all know that if she was able to play in those games last year, she would have been doing the same thing. We are fortunate to have her back and at full strength again this year. We are hoping to keep the whole team operating at 100 percent moving forward. She's definitely been a role model for the team and for anyone else out there going through an injury. Even this year we have had ups and downs when it comes to injuries but after looking at Haley we know there is light at the end of the tunnel and we can find success if we keep pushing through."
"It means a lot. It just goes to show you have to get through the hard times to get to the good times," added Mack, the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after her four-goal weekend against UMD in October. "It definitely makes you feel good after all the hard work you have put in; both mentally and physically. It's good to get off to a good start. It goes to show that everything happens for a reason and you do go through the hard times to get to the good times. It definitely takes a lot of mental focus as well. You have to be positively engaged in your rehab, in your workouts and everything else you are going through at the time no matter what point you are at, whether you are hurt or in the middle of the season. No matter where you are in your training you always have to be physically involved with the game. I think that helps a lot."
And with every exercise, skating drill or physical therapy session her senior classmates were with her stride for stride. You see, the story goes beyond Mack's ability to overcome. Four seasons ago, Scanlan remembers welcoming in a group of then-freshmen who had extreme potential on the ice but more importantly, he recalls how talented they were off the ice and how their ability to gel as a unit was their most impressive trait.
Fast forward to 2019-2020 and those early relationships he witnessed form have blossomed into bonds made of concrete that will no doubt extend beyond their playing days. Calling his current group of seniors one of the closest group of players he's ever coached, that team chemistry not only helped Mack get back onto the ice, but it has also established a culture within the locker room that championship programs are made from.
Along with Mack (103 career games heading into this weekend) and Olson (76 games heading into this weekend), Kiki Radke (107 games), Jacqueline Kaasa (113 games), Briana Jorde (108 games) and Abby Halluska (117 games) give the Beavers over 600 games of experience to work with making them the third most experienced squad in the WCHA in terms of senior games played, behind only Wisconsin (735) and St. Cloud State (660). However, the Badgers have seven seniors and the Huskies have eight. Bemidji State has six skaters who have compiled 624 career games (and counting). That's a lot of road trips together, grueling practices, study sessions and well-timed words of encouragement. Just ask Haley Mack.
"I definitely wouldn't be where I am right now if it wasn't for these girls," Mack explained. "We go through everything together, whether it's team success or individual success; it doesn't matter at the end of the day we are all a team and we wouldn't be able to embrace that idea if we weren't close or have that sisterhood. It plays a big role in our success because of how much we respect each other and care about each other. I think there is definitely something that is special about our group. We're not about drama or jealousy which I think helps us a lot as a core group and I think that does start with our senior leaders and the way we respect and care about each other. It's not about the points or anything like that; it's about all aspects of our team and doing well as a group."
"That's the part of the equation that is so important," Scanlan continued. "For most teams I think they can probably say the same thing. Just being a part of a team, that's one of the greatest things to come with being a part of a unit. You have that instant group of friends and sisters - if you want to call them that, right off the bat and anytime you go through any kind of adversity you have 26 teammates that are there to support them. It's so cool to see.
"Just recently Ellie Moser (sophomore forward), who suffered a torn ACL stepped on the ice for the first time since last February and the reception she got from her team was something I will never forget. It brought tears to my eyes just to see that. They all went up to her and gave her a group hug and stuff like that is really cool. Haley experienced that last year. Every one of the players went into the training room (last year) when Haley first got hurt. Every single one of them stopped in there to see how she was doing and to encourage her. She had that support from that day on until she got back in the line-up."
"Our ability to lean on each other, I think that's what makes this group special," Olson said. "We are very close, and we do a lot of the same things together. We are interested in a lot of the same things and we have really developed a friendship- a sisterhood; even outside of playing the game of hockey together and I think that has definitely been a key concept for us, both on and off the ice. Just how close we are and the culture we have here, and we have added to that culture. From my first day here, we have all been a core group and we have all stuck together. We are a really close senior class and it's definitely bitter sweet to go through a senior year and realize you are going through this for the final time but we are ready for it."
Ready and able. The Beavers senior class has seen nearly every scenario college hockey can give and that experience cannot be overlooked. Since stepping on campus, they have played in big games. They have faced number one teams in the country (multiple times). They have pulled off major upsets on the road and have shown the ability to compete with, and beat, every team in the WCHA. They have also gone on winning streaks and losing streaks and now know how to weather the storms that go along with both. Most importantly, they have shown that whatever it is- whatever comes at them, they are going to face it together. Always have. Always will.
It's a key component for any team but even more so for Bemidji State. Still feeling the sting of being swept last weekend in Madison, BSU steps back onto the ice against No. 8 Ohio State. Then the following week No. 2 Minnesota appears on the schedule. Just a day in the life of the WCHA but this group has been through it before. Several times.
"Someone at the WCHA doesn't like us," chuckled Scanlan when asked about the schedule. "It helps having that senior class going through a stretch like this because this is their fourth year. They know how we like to do things and how important our culture is. I think one of the most gratifying things as a staff is when we talk to our freshman and to a player, every one of them speaks to how welcoming the senior group and our team was to them when they came here. They felt a part of the team right away; they didn't feel that pressure of trying to fit in. It just makes our job so much easier and allows us to just focus on what's happening on the ice, knowing we have a great locker room that is going to stand on its own because of those seniors. Things like that are so important to a team's success."
Call it the "Senior Six"- the name of another McDonald's meal that just might get some traction one of these days in Lumberjack country.