Marlins' Brynlee Sabers emerging as one of South Dakota's top hockey players as freshman
Sabers has been playing hockey since she was little, and this season, the freshman is on a fast track to etching her name into the Mitchell Marlins’ history books.
MITCHELL — Hockey is in Brynlee Sabers' blood.
She comes from a hockey family and has been playing hockey since she was little, and this season, the freshman is on a fast track to etching her name into the Mitchell Marlins’ history books.
She led the team for the regular season with 31 goals and added 16 assists for a team-high 47 points in 15 games. She racked up eight hat tricks and started the season with four consecutive hat tricks, and she had at least one point in 14 of the 15 games she played in.
Sabers has accounted for nearly half of the Marlins' 71 goals this season, and no other scorer in South Dakota has scored more than 20 goals this season.
“She’s one we can always rely on,” head coach Chris Tronnes said. “When she gets a chance, usually she buries it. It’s really nice to have that on your team.”
"One of the hardest shots in the league"
Standing on the receiving end of a slap shot from Sabers is an unenviable position to be in.
It’s her bread and butter on the ice.
She’s often lined up close to the slot near the top of the circle, where she can fire a one-timer or wind up for a powerful shot toward the net.
“People say it’s one of the hardest in the state,” she said sheepishly of her shot.
“She’s got an awesome shot,” Tronnes added, chuckling as he noted her shot is probably harder than his. “Probably one of the hardest shots in the league. She can put it where she wants it usually.”
Part of her ability to score goals comes from her awareness on the ice. Tronnes said she knows where to go and where to be, mentioning she is “a really smart player … hockey-sense-wise.”
She’s also got a goal-scorer’s mentality. Scoring a goal is her favorite thing to do on the ice, and once she finds the back of the net, she’s looking to do it again. And again. And again.
“Once I get two, then I really try and get that third one,” she said.
And once she gets that third one, she lets everyone know.
“If I get a hat trick I’ll point toward the net and count one, two, three with my fingers,” she said of her typical hat-trick celebration.
Coming into the season, she wanted to surpass her goal total of 26 that she posted last year as an eighth-grader. And she did just that, using her shot when the offense is set up in the zone and on breakaways. But on breakaways, she utilizes more than just a hard shot. There, she can show off her speed, as well.
“When she sets her mind to, ‘I’m going to go full speed,’ hardly anybody can touch her,” Tronnes said. “Sometimes they just can’t keep up with her and she just goes and burns right through them. It’s fun to watch when she does that.”
With all the scoring, impressing people isn’t out of the ordinary. Tronnes said there are a lot of moments where he watches her and is left impressed by her play, and there are even times when she impresses herself. She cited a play against Brookings where she had two girls draped on her and still managed to get a shot off and score.
All season, though, she’s been a key cog in making the Mitchell offense go and will continue to be for the next few years. For now, the Marlins' season is culminating with the South Dakota state girls hockey tournament, which begins March 3 in Sioux Falls.
“She’s been huge,” Tronnes said. “Knowing that our future is very bright with these players is awesome.”
Outside the Marlins
For Sabers — and some of her teammates — the Marlins aren’t the only squad she plays for.
She’s already traveled as far as Pennsylvania with the under-19 Team South Dakota national team to play, and the team has a trip to California lined up this year, as well.
Sabers excels there too, racking up goals even against some of the tougher competition in the country, lighting the lamp five times during nationals last season.
Tronnes coaches her on that team, too, and has coached her since she was young, growing up with his daughter, Makenna, with the two girls in the same class. And he said the benefits of playing at a higher level was noticeable as quickly as this Marlins’ season.
“You're playing against top players everywhere is obviously gonna make you better. We got to do everything quicker, faster, harder,” Tronnes said. “I think just playing that level … It's helped them all immensely. You notice that from last season to this season, where they played that fall Team South Dakota, just their speed, their quickness, everything elevates just from playing against better competition.”
With the ice closed in Mitchell over the summer, she’ll travel to Sioux Falls for camps to work on her game, but she said summer is largely a period of downtime for her. In the winter, she spends a lot of time on the ice, but not always at the rink. Living on the lake, her family creates a homemade lake-hockey rink when it freezes.
“I will go out on the lake with my friends. They’ll come out with a stick and shoot around,” Sabers said of playing on the lake. “Outside is really fun.”
As only a freshman, and at the rate she’s scoring at, there’s a chance for Sabers to end her career one day at or near the top of the all-time leaders in goals and points for the Marlins.
And even though she’s just a freshman, playing hockey in college is on her mind, with her dream to be suiting up for the Minnesota Golden Gophers one day, though she said she’d be open to playing anywhere.
And though she’s been playing for close to 11 years already, it doesn’t get boring for her. She said her teammates are a part of her motivation to come to the rink everyday, but at the end of the day, Sabers just loves hockey.
“It's always something different. Like, you always want to practice something different or try to accomplish something,” Sabers said of why she loves hockey. “So either way, you never really do the same stuff.”