MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Julie Friend has had the skills and the fundamentals of playing goalie down for a few years. Minding the net can be a mentally demanding experience, though, a process that required some self-discovery and a sharpened focus for Friend to reach an elite level.

After finishing her prep career with a major role in Minnetonka’s first state championship, Friend was selected as the Minnesota Associated Press Player of the Year for girls hockey.

The senior led the Skippers to their first state tournament and posted a 23-0-1 record. With only 18 scores allowed in those 24 starts, Friend had a state-best 0.74 goals-against average. She had 12 shutouts, too.

The remainder of the AP’s all-state team includes forwards Karley Sylvester of Warroad, Meghan Lorence of Mounds View and Rachael Bona of Coon Rapids, and Rachel Ramsey of Minnetonka and Milica McMillen of Breck on defense. McMillen, the only junior in the group, and Sylvester are repeat selections from last year.

Friend’s last loss in the net dates all the way to last year’s defeat in the section finals, more than a calendar year. Significant progress in Friend’s game was made during her junior season, after she began to work with a Twin Cities area outfit called Mental Edge, which works with athletes on the psychological side of sports.

“It was probably the best thing I could’ve done for my career,” said Friend, who will play in college at St. Cloud State.

Minnetonka coach Eric Johnson saw the difference in a goalie who used to be prone to occasional lapses and preventable goals to an even more confident backstopper who was willing to take more risks and roam more of the ice even in tight, critical games because she knew she’d be ready.

“There’s just a natural tendency with nerves to back up a little bit. Julie did a nice job this whole year of playing more boldly, right where she should be,” Johnson said.

Friend flourished and matured into a fun-to-be-around teammate who struck up a friendly — no pun intended — conversation with the Minnetonka rink manager every time she arrived.

She led the pregame ritual of reading descriptions of motivation for beating that day’s opponent, as written on paper — seriously, in jest, or somewhere in between — by each player and stuck in a can so they could be pulled out and read aloud in a memorable moment of bonding and relaxing.

She would playfully trash talk her coaches, daring them to try to score on her during drills in practice.

“It was all good-natured, and it made the day go by quickly,” Johnson said.

The Skippers finished 29-1-1, beating rival Edina 3-2 for the Class 2A championship at Xcel Energy Center last Saturday. Friend made 20 saves in the title game.

“You really leave a mark for the community, which I think is really important,” Friend said, asked about her view of her role as a senior leader for teammates as well as youth players to look up to. “We were such good friends. We really all got along and did our best and what was best for the team.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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