Mol The Wall: For six seasons, Molly Black has been a cornerstone in the success of Devils Lake girls hockey
It's hard to believe that at one point in her career senior goaltender Molly Black didn't call in between the pipes home. The fixture in the net at Devils Lake, who has picked up over 4,400 saves, a 0.900 career save percentage, and tons of accolades for her performance in net wasn't in the cage until she was almost a teenager.
Black has been on the ice since she was 3-years-old, first lacing up the skates in Bemidji, Minnesota before heading west to Devils Lake a few years later. For nine years, Black was attacking the net, but it wasn't until her 12U team was in need of a goaltender that her future in hockey took an unexpected turn.
"When our town started out the first 12U program, we really didn't have anyone to step in as goalie," Black said. "I was the most flexible one, so they just threw me into the net, I fell in love with it and here I am."
It takes a specific kind of person to stand in front of a piece of rubber but slung at you multiple times a night, and for Black, she was nervous at first, but she quickly fell in love with her job in between the pipes. In fact, it's come to a point where Black has enjoyed seeing more shots on net...like 60.
Five times this season, Black has been faced with over 50 shots, seeing the highest total come against Bismarck as she made 65 saves on 68 shots. While some goaltenders may stress about having to face a high number of shots, the more pucks Black has to stop, the more fun she's having.
"The Bismarck game where I faced 68 shots, that was just fun," Black said. "You just face one shot at a time and you just gotta have fun with it. That's all you can do."
From her first start in the Devils Lake High School program, it was evident that Black was something special. Her first time stepping out onto the ice in a Firebirds jersey was in the third period against Fargo North/South, which has been one of the most successful programs in the state. She would face 20 shots and stop all of them.
From behind the bench, Black's abilities to move from post to post and rebound control are part of what has made her such a dependable in the net. Even in the Firebirds' final game of the season against Grand Forks, Black was on top of almost every loose puck around the paint.
"Her ability to move side to side so quickly and gobble up loose rebounds is what makes her so special," Firebirds head coach Rob McIvor said. "She has a great ability to just keep the puck in front of her."
One of the reasons why Black's game has become so strong is because she never takes a day off. In the summer or the off-season, she's at camps around the upper midwest, trying to improve her craft. She's at Burdick Arena an hour and a half before games, warming up as soon as she walks through the doors.
Even after games, when the entire team is back in the locker room, she spends a few mins stretching out on the ice to maintain the thing that put her in net in the first place: her flexibility. Black said that since she started goaltending, she's looked for ways to be even more flexible, which has also helped with her ability to stay in the net.
"Being flexible has definitely helped with injury prevention," Black said. "I've only missed one game in all of my six years, and that was because of a concussion, which isn't something I could really help."
Black's almost perfect attendance on the ice has been huge for the Firebirds, especially last season. Devils Lake had its strongest finish in program history during the 2019-20 season, where Black played a major role in getting their Firebirds to their first state tournament. Black led the goaltending effort while then seniors Elle Black (Molly's sister) and Kaylie Klemetsrud, then eighth grader Ashlyn Abrahamson and then sophomore Abbey Reule, would lead the scoring effort.
The Firebirds' charge to state was highlighted by a 2-1 quadruple overtime win over Grand Forks, where 49 saves from Black and a goal from then-senior defenseman Haylee Carlson would keep the dream alive for another day. It's a game and a memory that is still cherished to this day, by both teams.
After Thursday's game, Grand Forks goaltender Kaylee Baker would come back onto the ice while friends and family were celebrating with the Firebirds three seniors to congratulate Black and take some pictures with her. Black's mom would post the photo on Facebook with the hashtag "#4OTGOALIES".
"We won our first game at state in a four-overtime thriller and she let in only one goal," McIvor said. "It's impressive how well she's done at the high school level and I can only assume she's getting more offers coming in for the college level. I've said nothing about great praises about how she plays and the kind of kid she is."
It's uncommon to see a goaltender wearing a "C". There's no real reason why it's uncommon, but it just is. The last time a goaltender wore the "C' at the professional level was 11 years ago. However, to her coaches and her teammates, Black has always done as much as she can to help her teammates. Early in the season when the Firebirds were trying to up their communicative effort on the ice, Black was in the net talking to the defensemen to get things started.
One of her biggest efforts she making is helping eighth grader goaltender Deborah Clay and freshman goaltender Mathea Nelson step into a varsity starting role when she is gone. She's been working specifically in Wednesday practices with them and McIvor suspects that she'll be back in the rink next season to help progression Clay and Nelson's game. It's what she wants to do in order to give back to the community she's loved so much.
"My coach Chris once said do everything you can to give back to your community that raised you, so I really hope I can come back and be more of a goalie coach and a mentor to them," Black said. "This community is awesome. You can't ask for a better community. Even tonight, the crowd went wild when they talked about our senior accomplishments."
Black is a competitor, but she's always valued having fun while she's out on the ice. It's an attribute to her success that many might not think of. There have been a few games this season where the score has been lopsided in favor of the Firebirds opponent, but Black said it's about making the best of every moment to keep pushing forward. It's been something that's been elevating Black mentally and on the stat sheet since she entered the program.
"If you make one good save, you've just got to make the most of that," Black said. "If you let in three bad goals, don't focus on that. Focus on the funny joke your teammate said or something like that."
As for the future, Black knows she wants to play hockey at the college level, but she really isn't concerned about where it is, she just wants to play. It's been that way since she was 3-years-old. She loves the game and just so happened to find success, leaving Burdick Arena as one of the most successful hockey players in Devils Lake history.
"This means everything to me," Black said. "This is my favorite place to be."