FARIBAULT, Minn. — Shattuck-St. Mary’s has the No. 1-ranked girls hockey team in the country.

It possesses five girls who’ve played on the U18 Women’s National Team, Makenna Webster (St. Louis), Clara Van Wieren (Okemos, Mich.), Lacey Eden (Annapolis, Md.), Maddy Samoskevich (Sandy Hook, Conn.) and Casey O’Brien (Milton, Mass.).

All are seniors.

Shattuck, a boarding school in Faribault which annually houses the top girls and boys hockey talent in the country, also has one sophomore on its varsity girls roster.

That is McKenzie Rich, born and raised in Rochester and one of just two Minnesotans playing varsity for the 40-4 Sabres.

“We picked McKenzie after our tryouts because she’s got a really good shot, and she knows the game really well,” Shattuck longtime coach Gordie Stafford said.

But Stafford made sure to welcome Rich aboard while also offering her a warning.

Sophomores making his varsity team isn’t normal. It’s happened before, but he says it’s never been easy for anyone making that jump.

“The hardest part about being here is that you have to be at the rink at 6 a.m. every day,” said Rich, who was in the Rochester Catholic school system before transferring to Benilde-St. Margaret’s two years ago, where she played for Rochester native and former NHL player Shjon Podein, a longtime friend, hockey consultant and coach to the Rich family.

“Even though you love the game,” McKenzie said, “waking up that early to go to the rink is hard. Some days I don’t want to go. But I’m still working my hardest and I still love the game.”

Saw it coming

That’s what Stafford thought would be Rich’s response. He says it’s that way for everyone new to Shattuck hockey. Hockey practice in the morning, another workout in the afternoon, then at least one more trip to the ice before bed — it’s not for everyone. At least at first.

“Hockey here is not just a part-time thing,” Stafford said. “You have to view yourself as a (college or professional) athlete. It has to be part of your DNA. And then being the youngest person on an older team, McKenzie has to be at her best all the time. It’s challenging.”

But they are challenges that the 16-year-old Rich, who already committed to Minnesota Duluth as a freshman, is glad she took on. She’s not new to them. For years she’s played with and against some of the top girls players in the country during the non-high school season. That included her making the 2016 World Selects team which played in Helsinki, Finland. It also included her being one cut away this summer from making the U18 Women’s National team.

There was a debate in the Rich house about whether to meet McKenzie’s wishes and allow her to spend this year and the next two at Shattuck. It’s not cheap. But even more that, her mother and dad — Angie and Cory Rich — miss her terribly when she’s gone.

In the end, though, they decided to let her chase her dream.

“We begged her to come back home,” Angie said. “But her dream is not to just play college hockey, she wants to someday make the USA Olympic team. And to do that, she says she needs to surround herself with players who are better than she is.”

McKenzie says that has no doubt happened in her first year at Shattuck, where the forward has collected 10 goals and 10 assists this season. She considers the talent there dazzling, led by University of Wisconsin-bound players O’Brien and Webster.

“I like playing with players who are clearly better than me,” McKenzie said. “I like playing with them and against them. I want to learn and get better. And I’ve learned a lot this year. By my senior year, I want to be the leader of this team.”

That final vision is one that both O’Brien and Webster can completely imagine.

They agree, this is a special player and kid.

“McKenzie has smarts and she is a playmaker,” O’Brien said. “I haven’t seen anything like it before from a sophomore. She’s going to be phenomenal.”

Podein, that former NHL players who coached her for years, agrees.

“The sky's the limit for McKenzie,” he said. “She is chasing the highest point she can. And she’ll reach it.”