When Minnesota's season began on Sept. 28 against Mercyhurst, defender Sophie Skarzynski found her name on the lineup card at her natural position – defense.
Skarzynski spent most of last season as a winger who occasionally played defense. Last season, she scored eight goals and recorded 27 points.
The multi-talented player considers herself to be an offensive defender who likes to join the rush. She said that she was too aggressive offensively last season and wants to pay more attention to defending.
"I'm an aggressive player," Skarzynski said. "Now that I'm back at D, I have to make sure I'm pinching at the right times."
Defender Patti Marshall is Skarzynski's blue line partner. Associate head coach Joel Johnson formed the pair at the start of this season.
Skarzynski said Marshall makes her look better on the ice.
"She's fast, a smart [defender], one of the smartest D partners I've ever played with in my career," she said. "She's got quick feet [and] good hockey smarts."
Marshall's approach to hockey is the opposite of her defensive partner. She considers herself to be a stay-at-home defender.
Marshall said Skarzynski's helps her become more involved with the attack.
"That's cool getting a forward's perspective from that," Marshall said. "It's cool learning from her."
While statistics track Skarzynki's goals and assists, they don't track her commitment to teammates and the community. Skarzynski is a member of the University Student-Athlete Advisory committee.
Head coach Brad Frost said Skarzynski has grown as a leader on the team since her first season and hits the ice with a smile on her face.
"When she first got here, she was a wild card – loud, boisterous and immature," Frost said. "As the years have gone on, she's become more mature."
As a senior, Skarzynski mentors younger players, including defenders Gracie Ostertag and Crystalyn Hengler. Right winger Grace Zumwinkle said Skarzynski set an example for last year's freshmen and will continue to do so this year.
"[Freshman year] is a daunting first few months," Zumwinkle said. "You're trying to juggle hockey, school [and] being away from home. She did a great job of making sure all the freshmen were OK with school. She took us under her wing."
Even though she likes to play offensively, Skarzynki's main responsibility is to prevent goals rather than score them. This season, Skarzynski and the Gophers defense have held opponents to 16 goals in 10 games for an average of 1.6 goals against per game. Minnesota has allowed three goals or more in only two games.
Skarzynski said she prides herself on approaching every game like it's game seven of the Stanley Cup final.
"Everyone playing against us is going to give it their best," she said. "You can't take a game for granted."
Marshall said Skarzynski is easy to play with and has a burning passion for hockey.
"She always comes to the rink with authentic energy," she said. "It definitely lifts everyone else up. If someone's having a bad day, she'll be there to get them out of their funk."