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A Rich reward: Patience pays off with Division I scholarship for Dodge County hockey standout

McKenzie Rich has taken a winding road to get to a Division I college hockey opportunity, but the Dodge County senior standout says 'the future is bright' as she looks forward to heading to Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire in the fall.

McKenzie Rich
Dodge County girls hockey player McKenzie Rich on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at Graham Arena in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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KASSON — As the emails, texts and calls from college hockey coaches began to pile up over the winter, McKenzie Rich leaned heavily on her high school coach for advice and direction.

And to help her sift through all of the possibilities in front of her.

“I tell our kids all the time when they’re looking at colleges, prioritize what your values are,” Dodge County girls hockey head coach Jeremy Gunderson said. “If you have a coach who wants you, it’s a good program and you can play a lot, that’s a good option.”

All of those things — and a full-ride scholarship — are there for Rich at Franklin Pierce University.

So the senior at Kasson-Mantorville High School gave Ravens head coach David Stockdale the thumbs up this week. Rich will play Division I college hockey at the 1,600-student private university in Rindge, N.H., approximately 70 miles west of Boston.

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“I talked to (Stockdale) a lot and talked a lot to (Gunderson),” Rich said. “I wanted to play for a college coach who wants the best for me and believes in me.

“(Stockdale) knows how passionate I am about hockey. I want to go in and help make the program better.”

McKenzie Rich
Dodge County girls hockey player McKenzie Rich on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at Graham Arena in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The commitment is equal parts excitement and relief for Rich, who has taken a winding path to end up at Franklin Pierce.

She played youth hockey in Rochester, followed by two seasons of varsity hockey at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Twin Cities suburb of St. Louis Park. From there, Rich spent her sophomore and junior seasons at Shattuck St. Mary’s before returning home to finish her high school career at Kasson-Mantorville, including playing hockey for Dodge County.

Rich had a strong senior season, helping the Wildcats to a 14-12-0 record. She led the team in goals (27), points (42) and power-play goals (7), splitting time between defense and forward.

“We had a blast with her this year,” Gunderson said. “She gives me a hard time, she says ‘I wish I’d have come here right from the beginning.’ We do a lot of community service and team bonding, she was living at home with her parents for the first time in a few years. …

“I’m just glad (the college commitment) got done for her. I think it’s a relief for her that it’s done and completed. It’s a stressful process. She had a lot of schools out east after her, a couple of WCHA teams and almost every Division III team around here.”

For a time, Rich — who was once committed to Minnesota Duluth — was set on finding a home close to home, with a WCHA program. But Gunderson was in her ear on a daily basis, reminding her that there are quality programs in other parts of the country, programs that could offer her things that some WCHA programs may not.

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Once Rich was able to see the Franklin Pierce campus and facilities, though, she was hooked. The Ravens went 22-9-1 in 2021-22 and won the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance postseason championship.

“For awhile out east, it wasn’t really an option I was considering,” Rich said. “I was looking more at the WCHA — Bemidji, St. Cloud State, Mankato — but Jeremy really helped me through the process. A lot of schools from out east were calling, wanting me to come visit.

“My mom and I went out to Franklin Pierce, toured it and really liked it. Right when we drove in there is a big lake on the left side, a small school and they have a couple of players who I know from Shattuck. It reminded me a lot of Shattuck, too, with how small it is and how tight-knit the team is.”

Rich should feel right at home with the Ravens, too, as they have four Wisconsin natives and seven Minnesotans on the roster, including Warroad native Geno Hendrickson, who grew up in Albert Lea until she was 12.

She’ll also have the opportunity to be a two-sport athlete there. Rich, who is playing softball for Kasson-Mantorville this spring, reached out to Franklin Pierce softball coach Andrew Klaus, who was very receptive to Rich joining his team, too.

“It’s really a nice feeling,” to have her commitment settled, she said. “It was stressful during the (hockey) season, but I wanted to wait (to commit) until it was done and I think that was a good decision. I’m really, really happy with where I’m going. The future is really bright.”

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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