The Hometown Girl

FARIBAULT, MN - In 2011, Faribault native Megan Ryan '17 started sixth grade at Shattuck-St. Mary's. Now, six years later, she will leave a four-time national champion and SSM graduate. The following feature by the Faribault Daily News highlights the hometown girl as she prepares to continue her hockey career at Union College. 

A little hard work can go a long way. Add in some talent and the right attitude, and one can go just about anywhere.

For many hockey players, a desire to improve and potentially play at the next level leads them to Faribault and Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Megan Ryan had those same goals, and for her, it meant staying right where she was.

Ryan, who graduates from SSM next week, was the lone Faribault native on the Sabres’ girls prep team roster this year — and one of two such girls in the program. And even if Minnesota is the State of Hockey, just four of the 20 girls on the prep team are from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The fact that Ryan leaves SSM with four national championship medals isn’t a story of someone overcoming insurmountable odds. It is however, a tale of someone who had dreams and worked very hard to make them a reality.

“She’s earned everything she’s gotten,” girls prep coach and director of hockey Gordie Stafford said. “I mean, it’s a perfect example of how a person with kind of a growth mindset that realizes that through hard work, they can achieve whatever their highest potential is. That thing about her is when she saw all the high-level girls that we had coming to Shattuck, she kind of in her own mind said, I want to be like that. She wasn’t intimidated one bit; it made her work harder. That’s a true testament of her character for sure.”

Ryan played the last two years for the girls prep team, winning 19U national titles, and prior to that, played for the girls U16 team, as part of their four-year title streak.

For someone who knew it would be an uphill battle to play when she joined the Sabres as a freshman, leaving SSM with four titles is something Ryan never imagined.

“No way. I didn’t know that would be possible,” she said. “Honestly, when I was little, I looked up to Sarah Murray, who went to Shattuck. I told my parents, I said, I want my picture up on that wall like Sarah Murray after winning a national championship. The first one, you can’t even describe it. Honestly, after I won the first one, it was amazing. The feeling is just like a release, like every day when we wake up early, eat together, sleep together, breathe, everything, our hard work paid off. Honestly, that’s what we were there to do. We just came together as a team. I didn’t think for a second that I would win four years in a row. It’s incredible, honestly.”

Putting in the work

Hockey was not the sole impetus for enrolling at SSM. Ryan went to the STEM school in town before enrolling at SSM in sixth grade for the academics. Playing hockey was a hope, one that laid further down the road.

By the time ninth grade was near, Ryan and her parents reached out about joining the program. Freshman year, she was a member of the U16 team.

“That can be tough. I think Shattuck as a school, we are proud to be part of the Faribault community, so we like to give local kids a chance in the hockey program,” Stafford said. “It is difficult. So over the years, there have been a few that have been able to play. She was one, and I think her parents have always been very realistic and just unbelievably supportive of her. I think we were very upfront with them, that let’s have her come in and work as hard as she can, and we’ll see where that takes her. She just took that — I was going to say she took the ball and ran with it, but she took the puck and skated with it.”

As a day student, Ryan lived at home while attending SSM. Being from in town, yet in a way, existing apart from it, was a dynamic she had to get used to.

“You spend so much time up at Shattuck,” Ryan said. “Even though I still live here, you kind of lose some of those friendships that you had earlier in Faribault. But honestly, I still have some great friends here. It was strange not seeing those people every day anymore. But I loved my teammates up at Shattuck, and they’re another family of mine.”

At 5 foot 3, Ryan isn’t the biggest girl on the ice. She won’t overwhelm anyone physically, but over the course of her four years at SSM, she’s grown into an NCAA Division I-caliber player. Ryan signed to play at Union College starting this fall.

“So it was obviously a challenge playing against some of the best girls in the world at that level and everything,” Ryan said. “It was a challenge, but they were so supportive and nice about it. Like Coach Stafford always says, the greatest form of friendship is competition. So they pushed me every day to be the best I could be. That’s how I improved, basically. It was a challenge, I was a bit over my head, but playing against them every day honestly brought me up to their level.”

Ryan made the most of her playing time as a senior, slotting into a deep rotation on the blue line. The Sabers went 51-8-5, and she was third on the team in scoring among defensemen, with two goals and 23 assists for 25 points.

The 2016-17 edition of the Sabres was certainly a talented group, as well. Six players from the prep team played in the U18 Women’s World Championships in January — Gracie Ostertag, Clair DeGeorge, Maureen Murphy and Natalie Buchbinder for Team USA, and Courtney Vorster and Brette Pettet for Team Canada. Another senior defenseman, Makayla Langei, also represented the U.S. U18 national team before aging out. Between playing with Langei, Vorster, Ostertag and Buchbinder on the blue line and going against the likes of DeGeorge, Pettet and Murphy in practice, Ryan was among good company.

The work ethic to get to that same level meant Ryan improved a lot over her time at SSM.

“I would say as a player, her skating, both her speed and her agility; she works so hard at that,” Stafford said. “I would say she’s a perfect example of a person who understands her — I don’t mean this in a bad way — limitations and plays within herself.

“When she was younger, she would get kind of intimidated by the other teams, maybe their speed. But I would say from the last month of her junior year all the way through her senior year, you look at the defense that we had, I mean we’re talking under-18 world champions that are her teammates, and she was right in with them.”

Her teammates saw it, too.

“I’ve definitely seen her get better skills-wise,” senior goaltender Aerin Frankel said. “But she’s always been a hard worker. Something that has been good for her is, even when there were seniors on the team last year that were ahead of her in the lineup, she never really gave up. She had her turn this year and she was definitely one of the defensemen this year that we could rely on. I think the junior and sophomore defensemen looked up to her because she turned into kind of a different player this year.”

The defense is a big reason the Sabres won the title and allowed less than two goals per game.

“That was something we definitely relied on,” Frankel said. “Everyone on our team knew that if we took care of everything else, that our D would always be there. Having that in front of me, I was confident with that. It was easier to relax and just think that they were going to do their job, so I just had to do mine.”

Moving on

In the fall, Ryan will wear similar colors for another team as a member of the Union College Dutchwomen. Union is in Schenectady, N.Y. and is a member of ECAC Hockey, a conference that also features Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale, as well as Clarkson, which won the 2017 NCAA title over Wisconsin.

Playing college hockey at all started as a dream for Ryan, but as she got older and improved her game, it went from a “maybe” to a National Letter of Intent. Now she’ll travel halfway across the country to continue playing. While it will be a new experience, Ryan with hockey remaining a focus, it should help the transition.

“Yeah, for sure. Just nervous because you’re going away from home, and I’ll have a roommate — being an only child, that will be a new awakening,” Ryan said. “I do think having a team be there, it’s like automatic friends made. You don’t have to go in and meet your roommate and then go try and meet other people. I mean, that will still happen, but it will be a lot easier to adapt to a different environment with other girls that have something in common with you right away and you meet right away. That will help a lot with the transition.”

Stafford sees in Ryan a humble person who kept working all the time, not just when it seemed like an opportunity was there.

“She is just such a cool kid, who had no expectation of any kind of anything being given to her,” Stafford said. “Her mom and dad are awesome, they’re hard-working, genuine people. There’s something to be said for that, too. She comes from a home environment — especially with female athletes, it’s so important that her father is so supportive of her being an athlete, and obviously her mom as well. That’s a character trait that she brought to the school with her that helped her success in the school.”

As for Ryan, she’ll soon be representing Faribault on the East Coast, not just at SSM. Plenty of players might say they have Shattuck ties, but not all of them might be so keen on mentioning the town of Faribault itself. For Ryan, and fellow Faribault native Currie Putrah, who plays on the U16 team, being from the ‘Bo is a badge of honor.

“Honestly, Currie and I just embrace it,” Ryan said. “We’re happy, we’re proud of where we come from. We love it here and we’re so grateful to have Shattuck making us better people as well, and growing up there more. I’m very, very grateful and happy that I came from where I am, and my journey to play at Shattuck. I encourage other girls that play hockey to follow that path too, because honestly, it’s amazing. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”