By Andrew Vitalis, special to WCHA.com
Sydney Brodt took just a brief moment to look around and let it sink in. Not a long moment- just a short glance to her left and to her right as she made eye contact with some of the best women's hockey players in the world. And she was one of them.
"When I first got there it was pretty cool to be sitting in the locker room with Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Kacey Bellamy," chuckled Brodt. "Those are the players I looked up to when I was ten years old watching them play in the Olympics and watching them win the gold medal this past year. Being in the company of them; at first it was kind of intimidating, but when I got there, they were really nice. They took all of the younger players under their wing and helped us anyway they could. I just think it was a good experience."
The "experience" which brought the best of the best together was the 2018 Four Nations Cup. The "experience" was a gold medal performance by Team USA. The "experience" was a senior national team coming out party for the former Mounds View (Minn.) high school prep star and current captain of the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs Women's Hockey Team. It's an experience Brodt will never forget; nor will those who have watched the all-everything forward's rise.
Big stages and big moments are nothing new to her. After starring for three seasons at Mounds View High and being selected as a Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award finalist in 2016, that year Brodt also made waves as a member of the U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team, helping the group win the gold medal at the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) U18 Women's World Championships by striking for three goals and adding one assist in five games. She skated with a quiet confidence that immediately caught the attention of teammates and opponents alike. Brodt's ability also raised the eyebrows of current Bulldog head coach Maura Crowell (the assistant coach for that 2016 USA U18 team). Years and years of coaching experience at the high school, collegiate and national levels gave her the ability to dissect a player's ability with the flick of a pen. She loved what she saw.
The following season, Crowell sat back and watched Brodt as a freshman skater for her Bulldog squad, and in the process, witnessed her becoming one of the best freshman forwards in the country. Through 35 games Brodt scored eight goals and added 13 assists. At the end of her rookie year, Brodt was named to the 2016-17 WCHA All-Rookie Team. With one year of college in the books and numerous milestones already documented on her résumé, Brodt entered her sophomore season and added another one to the list by being named team captain- making her the youngest captain in the history of UMD Women's Hockey. That season Brodt skated in all 35 games, scoring five goals to go along with 11 assists.
With every practice and every game, Brodt made her presence known; and, Team USA was watching….and waiting. Then in October of this year they made their move- and so did Brodt. With the upcoming 2018 Four Nations Cup approaching fast, USA Hockey announced the team that would be tasked with the challenge of winning the tournament for the fourth-straight year. Named to the roster were 16 former Olympians who helped Team USA win gold at the 2018 Winter Games. Also selected to the squad were 12 players skating for professional hockey teams and 11 from the collegiate ranks; including six from the WCHA. One of the six was Sydney Brodt. What once seemed like a dream, the North Oaks, Minn. native had punched her ticket to the next level.
"When I was a youth player, playing for your country is everyone's dream- it was my dream," commented Brodt. "I had been working for that for a long time, so it was pretty cool to finally get the chance. I just wanted to take it all in; playing with all of those amazing players because you never really know if it will happen again, or if you are ever even going to get the opportunity again, so it was really special."
And while Brodt may have thought that she was the lucky one, now one week removed from Team USA's fourth-straight Four Nations Cup championship, her teammates probably feel that way too.
Brodt fit right in. After flying to Chicago, Ill. and taking part in a short training camp, she got her first taste of hockey at the highest level. Helping to ease the transition were her linemates, Decker and Coyne Schofield. Both professional hockey players (and collegiate legends) with personal trophy cases stacked to the top (including Decker's Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award she won while at the University of Wisconsin), Brodt immediately saw the type of impact those players can have when they step onto the ice. And it didn't stop there.
"For the tournament I knew it was going to be high-paced; I knew it was going to be the highest level of competition that I had ever played at before, so I just focused on mentally preparing for the overall speed and trying to harness the nerves that I was going to have going into the tournament," recalled Brodt. "I think the girls on the team helped me prepare for that with their leadership and their confidence- they made me feel right at home. Honestly, looking back on it, I wasn't very nervous going into the tournament, I was just excited to get to play for the team."
Prepared she was.
It took only until the second period of game one for Brodt and her line to make an impact; that's when Decker lit the lamp for Team USA's first goal of the tournament. The marker tied the game against Finland at 1-1 and opened the floodgates for head coach Bob Corkum and his crew. Team USA scored five goals in the stanza and never looked back en route to a 5-1 opening game win. As for Brodt, already with an assist under her belt; goal number four belonged to her. Decker dished out one of the assists.
In game two it was more of the same for both Team USA and Brodt. Locking horns for the first time with Canada in a renewal of women's hockey's fiercest rivalry, Brodt scored the tie-breaking, game-winning goal with just 1:38 remaining in the third period, giving her squad a 2-1 victory. Both Coyne Schofield and Decker assisted on the UMD prodigy's second goal of the tournament. Brodt was named Player of the Game after her heroics.
From there, Team USA moved onto game three against Sweden. Early on, the combination of Brodt and Coyne Schofield struck again, this time in the first period as Brodt lit the lamp for the third time in the tournament. Team USA scored four goals before Sweden even got onto the board as Corkum's team dismantled the Swedes, 5-1. The win gave the national team a perfect 3-0 record in pool play and advanced them to the Four Nations Cup championship game- against the host Canadians.
"It is fun to look back at her journey. I got to know Syd when she was on the U-18 team; that was my first interaction with her and we won the gold medal in St. Catharine's (Ontario) and then she started college with us," remarked Crowell, now in her fourth season behind the Bulldog bench. "She is just developing every single year and to see her join the senior national team for the Four Nations Cup, that was awesome first and foremost to make that roster. Secondly, to play on a line with Kendall and Brianna. I think that speaks volume to the potential Syd has, but also the player she is now; that she can jump in there with those two and then to see her succeed and score some big goals and be a big part of that success last week, it's just tremendous for her, her family and the Bulldog hockey family."
"I think the coaching staff was awesome, they helped us a lot on and off the ice with systems and everything we were trying to do. I think everyone on the team knew what he had to do but even more so, my linemates and my teammates were awesome," remarked Brodt. "Getting to play with Kendall Coyne Schofield and Brianna Decker was unbelievable. I just had to be standing in the right place and they just put the puck on my tape and I was able to score. Everyone is so good at that level. As long as you are playing well, it's not that hard to bang in a few goals- they made it easy for me."
One of the many things that stick out right away in regards to Brodt (and what makes her a unique talent) is her quiet approach to the game. Endearingly modest, Brodt goes about her business with a lunch box in one hand and a stick in the other. She is "team first" all of the time. So it's not surprising that when success comes her way, she deflects the praise and steers the headlines to someone, or something, else. Three goals in her first Four Nations Cup is an amazing feat. Taking it a step further, when you throw in her time skating for USA Hockey's U-18 team in 2016 when they won gold at the 2016 IIHF World Championships; Brodt has scored six goals and has added three assists for nine points in nine games playing for Team USA- against some of the best competition in the world! Last season as a college sophomore in the WCHA she scored 16 points in 35 games. The point? Big-time players show up for big-time games. Sydney Brodt is a big-time player.
"It's an easy question. It's her work ethic, consistency and preparation," explained Crowell, when asked what stands out about Brodt as a player and a person. "She brings it every single day- on the ice, in the weight room, in the offseason and as a leader in the locker room. Wherever she is, she is very present and gives it 100 percent all of the time. Then you have that consistency, and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with her work ethic. We know what we are going to get out of her every single day. She's one of the most consistent practice players I have ever seen and that's extremely valuable to what we are trying to do every single day. She plays at a high tempo, is competitive in practice and makes everyone else better. She is such a leader out there in that regard. Lastly, she is very mature and she knows what she needs to do to get ready for games, for practice and anything else she is doing. She is prepared all of the time. She puts in the time in the weight room, takes care of herself in terms of recovery and nutrition; she just does it all. Those three things separate her from the rest."
Not surprisingly, Brodt sees it differently.
"I just think coming into Duluth helped me prepare for the opportunity of playing on the national team. Ever since my freshman year, being able to play with great players here in Duluth like Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Lara Stalder, Sidney Morin, Maddie Rooney (the latter two of whom won 2018 Olympic gold with Team USA and were Brodt's Four Nations Cup teammates); all of those players my freshman year elevated my game. Throughout last year and now this year, we have so many great players here in Duluth. The competition here and the competition throughout the WCHA has prepared me to play at the next level," stated Brodt. "For me personally, I just love hockey. I love working hard. I want to come to the rink every day. It's fun to play and all of that comes easy when you are having fun."
What definitely seems to come easy for Brodt is leadership. Still the youngest player in Bulldog history to wear the "C" on her jersey, almost the very second her feet touched the ice back in Duluth- just days after the Four Nations Cup experience- she was back to the college hockey mindset. While many wanted to talk about the gold medal and her individual success, Brodt wanted to focus on what she learned and how those lessons can be applied to her Bulldog family. Currently 5-4-1 overall and 3-4-1 (one shootout win) in the WCHA, Minnesota Duluth finds themselves fourth in the conference standings (and seventh/eighth) in the national opinion polls, with pivotal upcoming games on the horizon against the likes of Ohio State, Clarkson, Minnesota State and Minnesota. It's time to get back to work and that's all Brodt wants to talk about.
"I think I just want to bring back the way that the national team prepares for the game and the way they bring such a high intensity to every practice and every workout- there are no days off. I think that's what I want to bring back to Duluth," mentioned Brodt. "I think we are already pretty good at that, but we want to focus even more on being consistent day in and day out and always being focused whether it's practice, working out or anything else we are doing. I think that is something that will make our team better and is something I learned from my experience more than anything else.
"I want to win a National Championship here at Duluth," continued Brodt. "The national team success is great and I wouldn't trade that for the world, but right now I am just focused on helping this team win a title. With the national team, I am just going to keep working and hopefully I will get the opportunity in the future to play with them again, but you never know what will happen. Obviously, the Olympics in four years is a goal of mine but that's a long way off still. Right now I am going to do whatever I can to help this team and this program be the best they can be."
"When Maddie Rooney came back from the Olympics, everyone wanted to know what it was like. Now it's a similar thing with Syd coming off this Four Nations championship. People want to talk about it and learn from her. She is also already a leader in our program so people look to her already, with or without the national team selection and success. This does, though, give her a little bit more status; not that she needed it," added Crowell. "I think it's great for her confidence as well as she continues to develop. She's only a junior and it's only November so she has a lot of college hockey left in front of her and hopefully a lot of national team hockey left in front of her too. It will be fun to see her back in the line-up this weekend and see what she will do. Hopefully we can get this going in the right direction."
The Bulldogs travel to Columbus for a weekend battle with nationally-ranked Ohio State Friday night and Saturday afternoon (with both games streaming live on FloHockey.tv and BTN Plus). UMD enters the weekend four points behind the Buckeyes in the WCHA standings.