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Rich — the PB All-Area Player of the Year — relished her role as leader with young Dodge County team

McKenzie Rich, a senior on the Dodge County girls hockey team, played on a line with two talented freshmen. She made them better and she said they made her better. Rich, the area's leading scorer, is the Post Bulletin Girls Hockey Player of the Year.

McKenzie Rich
Dodge County senior McKenzie Rich is the 2022 Post Bulletin All-Area girls hockey Player of the Year. Rich scored 30 goals and added 15 assists in her one season with the Wildcats.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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McKenzie Rich didn’t realize just how much she appreciated her senior season until it was done.

“Now that the banquet ended, the season and everything is done, we were crying after the final game and realizing it’s actually done, it’s just crazy how close I got with everyone,” Rich said.

Rich spent just one season with the Dodge County girls hockey team, transferring to the program based at the Dodge County Ice Arena in Kasson after spending the past two seasons at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault.

The Post Bulletin's All-Area Girls Hockey Team for 2021-22 is headlined by a Player of the Year who is receiving loads of interest from college programs, and a number of players who have played five or six years of varsity hockey.

Rich was a hit with her teammates and coaches. She led the Wildcats in goals (30), points (45) and game-winning goals (4). An elite passer with a heavy shot and a quick first step also led the Wildcats in interest from Division I coaches. And though she hasn’t chosen a college program to play for just yet, her decision will come within the next couple of months, perhaps within weeks.

For acclimating to a new program so well, helping make her teammates and linemates better, for her outstanding offensive production and her overall skillset, Rich has been named the 2021-22 Post Bulletin All-Area Girls Hockey Player of the Year.

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“Coming in from Shattuck this year, I didn’t expect to become so close with my teammates,” Rich said, “but how close we became and the connections we made … from the seventh- and eighth-graders on up to the seniors, it was crazy how much we bonded.

“My two linemates were freshmen and it was fun trying to help them build their game, with what I’ve learned. It was a really fun year and I’m sad that it’s over.”

Rich took an unconventional path to Dodge County. Born in Rochester, she played youth hockey here, then played two seasons of high school hockey at Benilde St. Margaret’s (from 2017-19) before moving on to Shattuck for the past two seasons. Joining the Wildcats for her final season of high school hockey allowed her to work on different elements of her game. And one of those elements jumped out almost immediately to the coaching staff.

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“One thing she learned coming here, that maybe she didn’t realize is her best tool is her passing,” Dodge County head coach Jeremy Gunderson said. “After six games I asked her who she is as a player, and she said ‘I’m a goal-scorer.’

“I said ‘Mac, your best skill is passing the puck. You can throw 90 footers across the ice on to (your teammate’s) tape.’ She has great vision and can make every pass. … She can pass as well or better than just about any player we’ve had come through our program. … She has that rocket of a shot, but she can out-pass just about anybody.”

Becoming a leader

Dodge County’s greatest depth this season was its talented forward group. The Wildcats coaches wanted to have Rich on the ice a lot, but they didn’t want to tinker with their top six forwards early in the season, so Rich started the year at defense.

After about six games, the coaching staff made a switch, moving standout sixth-year player Lyndi Schubert back to ‘D’ and moving Rich up front. She was placed on a line with freshmen Mollie Koch and Nora Carstensen, both of whom have bright futures and a talented skillset.

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

Rich embraced the role of being a mentor. She would often pull her linemates aside before or after practice to converse about hockey and school and whatever else was on their minds. Those three ended up being three of the Wildcats’ top four scorers, combining for 116 points.

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“A big thing for Mac was just having patience on the ice, being a leader, moving the puck around,” Gunderson said. “She was playing with two skilled young players — we expect both of them to get to where Mac is now — and she was a great mentor for them.

“She was good in that role. She talked to them a lot, giving them suggestions or pointers. She’d let them know it’s OK to make mistakes and that they can play well (at the varsity level).”

A 4-tool player

Rarely — if ever — did a day go by during the season, or now, that Gunderson isn’t contacted by a college coach who is inquiring about Rich.

Gunderson doesn’t need to offer a sales pitch. The college coaches and scouts can see Rich’s talent. But Gunderson will point out that Rich is far more than a goal-scorer and point producer. She makes the players around her better, too.

“Her skating is very explosive,” the Dodge County coach said. “She may not have the huge top end speed, but her first couple of steps are definitely Divison-I caliber. Her stickhandling is elite. Her passing is elite. Her shot is elite.

“She has four things that kind of separate Division I players from Division III players. If you have one of those things, usually you can play Division I. She has four.”

That college decision will come soon enough. For now, Rich is taking a deep breath and enjoying the memories of a senior season that surpassed her expectations, at least in terms of personal success and enjoyment.

“It was cool to be one of the older girls on the team,” she said. “I remember as a freshman and sophomore looking up to the older girls and seeing how positive and confident they were in their game.

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“Being with Dodge County, and seeing the younger girls do that to me, it’s an honor to know these girls look up to you and want to be like you as they get older. It was really cool to be that kind of player this year, and that made me better as a player, too.”

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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