It is just before noon on Saturday, and Frankie Mork ’17 sits in the bleachers in Lansing Chapman Rink. The Ephs do not play until 3 p.m., but Mork has arrived early – he always does. Looking out at the ice, he tries to visualize the game he will play in a few short hours. This is his pregame routine, and he has performed it in preparation for plenty of games over the last four years – 92, to be exact.
This is no ordinary game, though. The men are playing ardent rival Amherst in the NESCAC tournament; if they lose, their season is over. Mork’s hockey career is over.
In hockey-crazed Minnesota, the sport is a family affair. It certainly was for Mork; his father has coached hockey for the past 20 years, his older sister played Div. I hockey at the University of New Hampshire and his younger sister recently finished her senior season of high school hockey.
Each winter in Victoria, Minn., the pond in their backyard would freeze, and the Morks would skate. Frankie, the middle child, was on the ice by the time he was 2 years old.
“My older sister started skating a few months before I did, and we were out on the pond one day with my dad,” he said. “They let me be, and I stood up and started scooting around.”
Shortly thereafter, he picked up a hockey stick and began batting pucks around the ice. Whenever he had free time, he would go out to the pond to skate and to shoot.
If he was not in school or doing homework, he was on the ice working on his game. “I grew up on the pond,” he said.
By the time he started playing high school hockey at the Academy of Holy Angels, he was ready to make an impact. One writer, Chris Dilks, ranked him Minnesota’s ninth-best freshman in 2010. He began to travel across the state for games and tournaments, but he remained partial to his backyard pond.
“In the winter, I would bring friends over, and we could be out there for 12 hours on a Saturday,” he said.
When the Ephs visited Minnesota two years ago, Mork had the chance to show his teammates the pond.
“It was in the single digits, but we may have skated three or four hours before boarding the bus to the airport,” Head Coach Bill Kangas remembers.
In fact, the pond was so striking that local artist Terrence Fogarty painted it in 2010. “Somewhere in heaven there is a hockey rink,” Fogarty wrote on his website. “[I’m] pretty sure it looks a lot like Mork’s Pond.”
“That pond in Minnesota is Frankie’s happy place,” Taylor Carmola ’18 said. “He loves being on the ice and loves being outdoors. I think the one place he’d rather be than anywhere else is on that pond, shooting.”
In his four years at Holy Angels, Mork established himself as a productive offensive defenseman. A tremendous skater, he was adept at jumping the rush and manning the point on the power play. In addition, he was armed with pinpoint passing accuracy. In 96 high school games, he totaled 41 goals and 83 assists from the blue line.
Holy Angels co-captains Mork and Mario Bianchi were so dominant that a local newspaper even published a feature on them in 2013, their senior season. There was just one thing holding Mork back, and it was one over which he had no control – his height.
Although he had achieved great results through high school, Mork maxed out at 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and some doubted his ability to produce at the next level.
“Growing up, that’s what I got all the time,” he said. “People told me I wouldn’t be a successful hockey player.”
Some coaches told him to switch from defenseman to forward, where size is less of a necessity. Nevertheless, Mork always trusted his own ability. He continued to do what he does best: work on his game in practice, and play hard in games.
“It was easy for coaches or scouts to tell me, ‘You’re too small to make it to this level. You’re too small to play defense,’” Mork said. “For me, that was all background noise. I knew what I was capable of.”
The number stitched on his sweater is a constant reminder of his naysayers.
“On youth teams, the smallest jersey was always the smallest number, so early on I got stuck with No. 2,” he said. “Then I just learned to love it. I’ve been No. 2 on every team in every league. It gives me motivation.”
What Mork does with that motivation is spectacular.
“I haven’t met many people in my life that are as hardworking as Frankie is,” Carmola, Mork’s defensive partner, said. “He’s an animal, an absolute machine.”
“He spends more hours at the rink than probably anyone in the NESCAC,” co-captain Tyler Young ’17 said.
Mork’s natural abilities are impressive, but his work ethic is what makes him truly special. His smooth skating is a product of countless hours spent wheeling around Mork’s Pond. His passing and shooting capacities come from endless repetition of drills. His surprising strength is due to constant toil in the gym.
Yet the way he views training differs from the way most players do.
“My dad would tell me, ‘If you want to be good, put the time in,’” Mork said. “‘Shoot pucks when you can. Go put in time at the pond, but ultimately, have fun.’
“That’s what it always comes down to. I enjoy my time in the rink, and I enjoy my time in the weight room.”
School comes first
After meeting Kangas at a showcase, Mork committed to the College in November 2012, before his senior season had even started.
“There were opportunities for me to pursue Div. I hockey at schools that weren’t as rigorous,” he said, “but I realized it was a long-term decision. I knew I wouldn’t be playing professionally, so after four years I was going to be done playing hockey. I wanted to be set up to do something after I graduated.”
A double major in economics and statistics, Mork has excelled in the classroom, being named Academic All-NESCAC each of the past two seasons. He applies the same approach he brings to hockey to academics.
The competing demands of hockey and school can be challenging, but preparation, efficiency and drive allow Mork to remain successful in both facets. He wakes up at 7 a.m. every morning and fits in a morning skate before his classes start.
“As far as preparation goes, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who is more on top of things,” co-captain Sam Gray ’17 said.
“I question how he has the time to do everything that he does,” Young, Mork’s roommate last year, said. “He would come back to the room and take seven-minute naps when he was tired. He’s go-go-go.”
Becoming a leader
Mork starred his freshman season at the College, earning Second Team All-NESCAC recognition. After that year, though, he would face one of the most difficult challenges of his career. Before his sophomore season, he was diagnosed with femoroacetabular impingement in his hip.
The ailment required reconstructive surgery and kept him on the sideline for half the season. Even when he returned, it was not the same. He was able to contribute, but his typical skating prowess was not there.
Mork’s response was to rehab religiously. Unable to squat after the surgery, he was limited mainly to bandwork and one-legged exercises, very time-consuming workouts.
“He was there doing the boring stuff,” Carmola said, “but he stuck with it and never complained. No one ever had to tell him to do anything; he was always doing it himself.”
This season, Mork has finally regained the form and confidence from his freshman year. On Feb. 9, he was named a semifinalist for the 17th Joe Concannon Award, given annually to the best American-born Div. II/Div. III men’s ice hockey player in New England. Yesterday, he garnered his second All-NESCAC selection, this time as a First Team pick. Despite the individual recognition, he stresses that hockey is a team effort.
“We’re all out there trying to fill our roles and make positive contributions,” he said. “I’m lucky to have a lot of guys on the team who can score. I’ve been able to set them up and let them do their thing.”
“Frankie’s a tremendous leader, and he would never want to put himself before anybody else,” Young said. “He puts his best effort out on the ice, and as a result he’s gotten some great personal accolades, but he’s not doing it for the accolades – he’s doing it for the College and for the other guys in the locker room.”
This year, as one of the team’s eight seniors, Mork has taken on more of a leadership role. It has been a swift transition, Kangas said, because he leads by example.
“When you have players like Frankie, they become role models for younger players,” he said. “Everyone aspires to be like them. He’s so passionate and committed, and that rubs off on people in a good way. You can count on him in any situation.”
Midway through the first period, Mork skates with the puck up the right wing. Blazing ahead, he notices a defender waiting to make a play on him. Mork is prepared. He dumps the puck deep, and the two players collide; the one that hits the deck is not Mork, but rather the 6-foot-3 Amherst player.
“Frankie’s been famous around the league for surprising guys who are trying to hit him,” Carmola said. “For a little guy, he can really catch people off guard.”
By the third, Williams had built a 2-1 lead. With 10 seconds left, Amherst puts together a last-ditch effort. Mork, again, is ready. The final shot of the game bounces off his right side and harmlessly onto the ice.
The Ephs are moving on.
This is it
Mork cannot play hockey forever, and he knows that. There is immense gratitude in every stride when he skates. When he is tiring at the end of shifts, he trudges on. He knows he will miss it someday.
“This is it,” he says.
No matter the stakes of the game, a small part of him is still that kid skating around Mork’s Pond. The harder he works, the more he enjoys himself. The longer he skates, the more excited he gets.
Some things will never change.