As clock ticks away, Hockey player stands behind years of dedication to face her future

The clock slowly ticks down on the Under 16 national semifinal game in Frisco, Texas. After scoring the go ahead goal, the San Jose Jr. Sharks were on the defense of the consistent and ferocious attack from the Potsdam Ice Storm, a team that had already beaten the Jr. Sharks in the tournament.

Wskysjith the score 4-3 and the Jr. Sharks one minute and 30 seconds away from the immortality that comes with being able to compete for the chance to be called the best U16 team in the country, a Potsdam forward broke through for a one on one breakaway with 14-year-old goaltender Skylar Starbeck. A score would send the game into a toss up in overtime, but a save would send the Sharks to the national championship game. Starbeck’s eyes were entrenched on the puck, as goalies are trained to do.The forward faked left, came back across the ice to the right, and with every eye in Dr. Pepper arena, home of the Dallas Stars, glued to the ice, shot the puck. Starbeck, crouched in stance, dived across the crease, making a split save that sent the Jr. Sharks to the USA Hockey National Championship game.

Starbeck was vital to the semifinal win just like she, yes she, is vital to the increased exposure for women’s hockey. The number of girls playing hockey has seen a nearly 1,000 percent increase in participation in the United States over the last 25 years. But still, only 20 percent of high school hockey players are women. When that number is compared to the 45 percent of high school basketball players who are female and the 48 percent of soccer players, it still pales in comparison.

But Starbeck isn’t concerned about all of the statistics and minority lists she is added to. Hockey has been all she has known since she was a seven year old growing up in San Jose, Calif., and continues to this day in her second year living in Iowa. She doesn’t look at herself as a female hockey player; she’s just a hockey player.

The familiar voice of Fox broadcaster Joe Buck carries from the living room TV throughout the house, not once but twice. First he speaks to Starbeck’s father, who is sprawled out on the couch, as well as Starbeck’s grandmother, great aunt and younger brother, who are all in their own seat as they cheer for their hometown San Francisco Giants in their NLCS matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Next, about three seconds later, the delayed kitchen TV receives Buck’s call again, this time to Starbeck as she watches sitting at the dining room table sitting in a chair tilted onto it’s back two legs, leaning against the wall. Her right wrist has a multi-colored bracelet made of yarn, but the other arm is held up by a black sling, wrapped around her elbow and forearm and supported by a white strap that goes around the right side of her neck. She isn’t quite sure how bad she is hurt, but she screams in pain, then laughs it off as she foolishly tries to demonstrate how a puck found a padless part of her shoulder and introduced her to the sling she will be wearing for the next few days. Even after she sustained the injury playing for the Waterloo Warriors, she stayed on to finish the last seven minutes of the period she was assigned to play. After all, she is a hockey player. “I’m not gonna get off the ice. I’m used to getting hit with pucks. I was like ‘Oh, it stings. It’ll bruise and get numb for a bit,’ end of the story, I’m fine,” Starbeck said nonchalantly.

After getting hit, she went to her own private locker room in Young Arena, which she gets because she is the only girl on the Warriors and one of four girls in the entire Midwest High School Hockey League.

skymadisenSome people may worry about how a girl would fit in on a team full of guys, who are bigger, faster and stronger. Others wonder if girls should even be allowed to play with boys. The criticism doesn’t affect Starbeck. She just lets the others do the worrying and wondering, “[the boys] have been super accepting of me,” Starbeck said. “They’re like my brothers.”

Hockey is like a relationship. You need love, money and commitment. The more you put into it, the more you will get out. Starbeck has taken this to the extreme. The last 10 years of her life have revolved around the sport that she loves. Her family used to take trips to Mexico every year before the free time turned into hockey tournaments, and the vacation money turned into gas, hotels and equipment. Starbeck said dedication to the sport is essential for success. “It’s a full time commitment; it’s like a job.”

From 6 a.m. practices to traveling three hours a week to Wisconsin to play for her second team, the Madison Capitals, on top of the Waterloo Warriors last year, it’s Starbeck’s top priority. She’s missed school dances, including homecoming last year, football games and free time to hang out with friends, but she believes it’s worth it. “I’ve met nearly all of my friends playing hockey. It’s all I’ve ever known,” she said after admitting she’s running on five hours of sleep.

skylar The hard work, dedication and decision she made to get serious about hockey at age 14 are starting to pay off. She got her first scholarship offer to play college hockey from Lindenwood University, a private Division II school located in St. Charles, Mo. The only catch is that she didn’t get offered to play ice hockey. She got offered to play field hockey, a sport she has only one year of experience playing and hasn’t played since her sophomore year. Her friends convinced her to go out for field hockey, and she picked it up right away. Starting varsity as a sophomore, she led her team to the California equivalent of the state tournament. After talking to her former coaches, watching film and having a former teammate play at Lindenwood, they offered Starbeck a scholarship. She has less than two weeks to accept the Lindenwood offer or to pursue an immediate future somewhere else. “I’m fortunate to have two sports to choose from. I have the option to play two sports that I love. It’s going to be hard to decide,” Starbeck said. “I’m just in a stuck situation. I never thought I’d have the chance to play field hockey in college. I only played one year, so I thought it was just going to be a side sport. I didn’t actually think I’d be offered.”

She said she is split right down the middle, but with an offer literally on her kitchen table, Lindenwood will be hard to turn down compared to a path of the unknown.

“Yes,” she responds without even the slightest of hesitation when asked if the future scares her. “I have no idea what I want to do, where I want to go. And the matter of time I have is so short that I have to make up my mind on what I want to do with the next years of my life.”

Her whole life will be impacted by the decision she makes sometime this month.

After tying up the score in the top of the ninth, Cardinal rookie Kolten Wong stepped up to the plate in the biggest moment of his life. On the living room TV that Starbeck and her family were watching, Wong had the opportunity to change his life forever with one swing of the bat. With the pitch out of the right hand of Sergio Romo, Wong faced all the pressure and won the game with a shot over the right field wall. Then three seconds later, he did it again on the TV in the kitchen.

Now with all the pressure on Starbeck, it’s her turn to step up to the plate and knock one out of the park.

 

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