If you still don't think life has a way of coming full circle from time to time, talk to Sydney Scobee and she might convince you. If you still don't think time can be one of our greatest teachers; Scobee will set you straight. If perspective is what you are lacking the Gopher senior is ready to do some teaching of her own.
Back on Sept. 27, the former Breck puckster and 2015-16 Let's Play Hockey Senior Goalie of the Year semifinalist found herself having flashbacks. Just 20 minutes into that game - the Gophers first game of the year versus Colgate, Scobee received word that her friend and battle-mate Alex Gulstene had been injured and she was going in. It's not that she had never played before; actually, quite the contrary. Scobee began her college career playing for the University of Vermont for two seasons.
During her time playing in Hockey East, the Minnetrista, Minn., product played in 31 games for the Catamounts, posting a 2.59 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, and was named Vermont's Most Valuable Player as a sophomore.
After transferring to Minnesota and donning the Maroon and Gold, the then-junior played in 16 games and racked up 12 wins last year. Scobee finished season ranked third in the WCHA – and fifth nationally – in winning percentage, third in the league in GAA (1.76) and compiled a .927 save percentage, good for fourth in the league and 16th nationally. No, she had seen her fair share of action before. What made this moment so unique for Scobee was what she had just gone through and the significance of what was about to happen.
On Oct. 28, 2018, Scobee was between the pipes in Madison, Wis., facing the rival Wisconsin Badgers when she felt something in her shoulder. Even though she stayed in the game the medical report after the final horn sounded was not good. Her labrum was torn and she had chipped a bone in her shoulder. What followed was rehab - a lot of it. Even after she fought her way back into the lineup in late November, Scobee didn't return to the pipes on a regular basis until early December. For the rest of the 2018-19 season the rotation remained fairly consistent; Gulstene one night and Scobee the next. Then in April she elected to have surgery hoping that the procedure would give her the extra boost she needed for her senior year.
It worked, just not the way she thought it would. After the surgery, Scobee was prohibited from taking the ice for months. At the time, not skating for an entire summer with her senior (and final) season on the horizon seemed like a debilitating slap shot to the chest. As it turned out, the break proved to be a shot in the arm.
"It took me out of the game for a bit which I personally believe is the best thing that has ever happened to me," recalled Scobee. "Prior to that I never really stepped away from hockey all that much and in doing that, I had a lot of time for reflection and those sorts of things. I was able to reset some goals and was able to understand the game from a different view. I think that has helped me a lot.
"Now, going into my senior season I have a different mentality. This is the last season and I am going to go out there and lay it on the line; to give it my best. Honestly I feel really grateful for injury as crazy as that sounds because I don't think I would be as good as I am right now if it wasn't for it."
Good? How about really good. Since skating onto the ice to begin the Gophers' second period against Colgate, Scobee has been nearly flawless. And so have the Gophers. Minnesota skates into this weekend against Ohio State with a perfect record (8-0, 4-0 WCHA) and is ranked second in the conference in team defense and first in penalty kill.
As for Scobee, she is second in the WCHA in GAA (1.09) and tied for first in the league with a save percentage at just under 95 percent. Moreover, she finds herself, at least right now, as the go-to netminder for Brad Frost's squad. Last weekend, Scobee picked up her second shutout of the season helping the Gophers to a home sweep of St. Cloud State.
"Obviously I don't want my goalie partner hurt," Scobee said. "We all love each other and we want each one to be there battling every day in practice and hopefully she will be back soon and we can get her back in the line-up but with that, I love to be able to play every game and love the opportunity of competing each and every day I show up to the rink.
"My sophomore year at Vermont I played nearly every game. As I was playing and because I was in there every day my confidence grew. Before games, I remember it wasn't so much a nervous nerve but rather controlled nerves if that makes any sense. Last year going every other game, for some reason I felt more pressure just because it's kind of like a do or die situation. If you're not doing well you are probably not going to be in net the next game. For me personally, with the these last few starts I have found my comfort zone I think. Obviously you still have to battle every day and you have to earn your spot every practice but filling this role, I have found myself with so much more confidence than before."
"Her approach to each and every day has gotten better," Frost added. "Last year was her first year with our program. We do things a certain way and I think she fit in well and really tried hard to change her approach to practice every day and her expectations as well. She came back from some surgery this summer with kind of a renewed spirit and it's pretty exciting to see."
"Her confidence," added Patti Marshall, a senior defenseman for the Gophers, when asked about the biggest difference she has seen this season with Scobee. "Coming back as a senior and having a year being on the team, you can just tell she is stepping out of the net, she's playing the pucks and she's communicating more on the ice. When she is confident in net it makes the defense confident playing in front of her."
And vice versa. No doubt helping Scobee's rise to the top has been the play of the Gophers in front of her- both at the blue-line and beyond. In addition to an already skilled group of returners, Minnesota added WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year Madeline Wethington making the UM defense dangerous with a capital D. Then you throw in Emily Brown (2018-19 All-WCHA Second Team and last week's WCHA Defensive Player of the Week) and Olivia Knowles and it's easy to see why Scobee finds herself smiling 24-7 these days. In Dinky Town, while the Minnesota scoring attack is A plus, it starts with defense. Always has and always will.
"Especially for the public it's easy to see the goal scorers and those who get on the scoresheet but our coaches always say that defense is the best offense and you have to play defense first. As a D core we take pride in blocking shots and shutting down scoring opportunities from the other team and then breaking the puck out cleanly," commented Marshall. "Coming into the season we had five of our top defensemen returning and we had both of our starting goalies returning as well so that was a good start for our D core and I think we are living up to our expectations and standards so far. Freshman Madeline Wethington is doing a great job and this Scobee being in net the majority of our last games, she's done an unbelievable job and she is a big part of our defense."
"The old adage is defense wins championships. We look back to our best teams in the past, when we won championships it often times started on our back end," continued Frost. "It certainly is an emphasis for us; far from perfection but we have some real good returning defensemen who have some experience and then with Madeline Wethington joining the fray she has been a very good player for us as well."
With the timetable as to when Gulstene will return up in the air, for now anyway, the keys to the bus are firmly in the hands of Sydney Scobee. Don't expect her to take a single second for granted. The smells. The sounds. The experience. What a ride it's been and what a final campaign it's shaping up to be.
"I think you don't realize you take it for granted until something happens. I never would have admitted before that I was someone who took hockey for granted until it was taken away from me. I was like, wow- I appreciate it so much more now. Every practice I am just ready to go. It's such a big difference from last year for sure," reflected Scobee. "Before every game, when we are on the starting line-ups and stuff and we are on the goal line, during those moments I just think I can't believe I am here. I try to soak it all in because I was once one of those little kids in the stands that was like wow, look that them go. It's so hard once you are here to realize that this is actually true and then before you know it your four years are done. Being a senior and wearing the "M", you wear the "M" with pride because there are so many girls that would kill to be in your spot. I think everyone on our team is grateful."