Take a front row seat the next time that the Buffalo Beauts are playing. Make sure that you focus in on Kaylyn Schroka, one of the team’s rookie forwards. Watch her eyes while she plays. They are dark and serious and focused. What Schroka is zeroing in on is an opportunity and she capitalizes upon it with elusiveness.
Think of Detroit Lions legendary running back Barry Sanders. In this case, we are going to focus on a physical characteristic that both Sanders and Schroka have in common. Those dark, serious eyes. Try to recall Sanders’ eyes and how darting they were. His eyes moved faster and with calculating precision. The same can be said for Schroka’s eyes, in that she can see openings and darts through them. Her feet and body follow wherever her eyes may go. Considering that Schroka is from Michigan, she will not mind the comparison to Sanders.
She also took the time to dish on the more technical aspects of hockey and how they have impacted her career.
Schroka’s Darting Focus Was Developed in College
In the first five games of her first NWHL season, Schroka is nearly a point-per-game player with a goal and three assists. She is a big body too with her five-foot-seven-inch frame. The three assists, in particular, are reminiscent of her production during her four years of NCAA play at Adrian College.
Each year Schroka’s assist total increased, going from 9 in her freshman campaign to 14, 24, and then finally 33 assists in her senior year. Keep in mind that she reached those numbers in 31 games in a season. Her assists alone during her senior year made her average better than a point for every contest. Never mind the goals she scored.
Schroka explained her development from the onset in college:
“I learned a lot every year – every year I learned something new – I gained experience,” she explained. “I watched and listened to the upperclassmen and my coaches, and I realized a little bit more each year on what I had to do to get those assists or points each game.”
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) November 12, 2017
This is where spotting openings and opportunities came about too. Schroka is quite cerebral and sees the ice well. Anticipation is one of the keys to her game.
“My freshman year I wasn’t on the power play, and that was one of my goals to get on that system,” Schroka recalled. “I watched closely, and when I did get put in for maybe just a sub or a second, I took advantage of the opportunity. I was ready from watching. Each position had a job out there and I focused on what my job was and tried to capitalize on it.”
Importance of Conditioning and Hard Work
Schroka made headlines during the summer when it was announced that she and her two Adrian College linemates Sarah Shureb and Kristin Lewicki had all signed with the Buffalo Beauts. As a unit, they were utterly explosive. In their senior season alone, the trio combined for 187 points on their 86 goals and 101 assists. They did that in just 31 games. In Buffalo, these three are known as “The Adrian Line”.
Last season, the line of Sarah Shureb, Kaylyn Schroka and Kristin Lewicki combined for 187 points for @AdrianWHockey.
Welcome to Buffalo! pic.twitter.com/Lgfaa3A4Lc
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) July 11, 2017
Reaching that scoring apex in college though did not just happen. This was developed over a solid four years of conditioning and training during their time at Adrian. Schroka recalled, in particular, the amount of work and effort that she put in to achieve such success.
“My off ice-changed greatly too over the four years. I learned different types of workouts and also what I needed to focus on as a player personally. I went from heavy-lifting to more cardio and resistance training, to stick-handling more often than shooting. My mentality changed now that I knew the level I needed to reach.”
Determination Is an Integral Part of Who Schroka Is
Schroka also believes that such determination, when it came to her personal training, played a big role in what got her into the NWHL as a professional hockey player. In fact, she even shared some advice for current college hockey players considering making the jump to pro hockey after they graduate:
“Train and over-train, and have the confidence that you belong here. That you can do it because you were picked for a reason,” Schroka stressed. “I did not really know what to expect when transitioning from college to professional, but I knew I had to train harder than I have ever had to before.
That means no excuses, and I had to get into a routine with my workouts. I needed to get on the ice when I could, and I had to mentally, and truly, believe that I could do this. Preparation is important. I prepared my workouts and schedule every week and always had it in my head what I had to do that day or the next for that week.”
Her Best Characteristics as a Physical Player
Not many players can outwork Schroka. They may try, but it does not happen often, especially when she parks herself in front of the opposition’s net. Beauts co-coaches Ric Seiling and Craig Muni must love having her as an option for the power play because Schroka is near impossible to move when she gets in position. To make another Detroit-related comparison, Schroka can park herself at the top of the crease like a Tomas Holmstrom. She can be just as persistent and ill-humored as he was.
“Being a bigger player out on the ice does help out in the offensive zone,” Schroka explained. “If I am in front of the net I can hold my ground easier if the opponent is trying to clear the front of the net, which could result in either me being a screen or a passing option. I also protect the puck and do not get knocked off the puck as easily being able to hold onto it in the corners in hopes to be able to create another opportunity. Possibly cycling it down low to a teammate or stepping out from the corner.”
Schroka’s Ability to Think the Game
Explaining it as well as she does demonstrates Schroka’s ability to think the game and make decisions that ultimately produce the right results. It is no wonder that during her four years at Adrian she had a total of 10 game-winning goals. She gets the job done and does so in the clutch or so she has proven.
“I would describe myself as a hardworking player. I don’t have the best hands or the most speed, but I have the will to work until the final buzzer,” Schroka said. “My endurance helps me keep working hard on the ice for a full 60 minutes. Also, having the love or passion for the sport, my teammates, and the team – this attribute pushes me every day to try to reach the level I need and want to be at. From working through battles on the ice, and having the mentality that will help my team and I achieve our goals.”
A Coach’s Dream to Have Schroka on Their Club
Schroka leads by example, and there are few finer players than she at doing so. Oftentimes if she is in front of the net on a Beauts’ power play, she is taking more than her fair share of abuse from the opposing team. Whether that is from jostling over position or being met with the whack of a stick, Schroka does not hesitate to sacrifice herself for the betterment of her team. It is not surprising that she was also team captain for the Adrian Bulldogs in both her junior and senior seasons.
Furthermore, Schroka is presently tied for second place on the Beauts in blocked shots with eight of them. She is also tied with her Adrian linemates Lewicki and Shureb as the team leaders in plus/minus. Each of them is a plus-2 after the first seven NWHL games that the Beauts have played.
Being a leader in such categories is because of the way she tries to play her style of game. Like any player, she has favorite tendencies or go-to options when she is on the ice. The power play is where she is often at home, and so she seeks out particular plays to make use of when she is in certain situations. Of her 69 goals in college, 19 of them came on the power play.
Give-And-Gos and Back Doors
“I personally like to look for give-and-gos or dishing it to the back door,” Schroka stated. “Those plays don’t always work easily though without movement of the power play as a unit to open up players and to get the penalty kill scrambling. (In college) I was in front of the net often and popping out down low for support for a give-and-go.
In front of the net, I mainly looked to screen the goalie or to try and get in an open area for an opportunity. Hanging high or posting up on the back door. Depending on which system we were running sometimes there would be another teammate on the back door I could also just bump the puck to quickly for a better opportunity.”
Schroka is still finding and generating those opportunities with Buffalo. One of her three assists came off of a Beauts power-play goal. As of late, she and Lewicki have seen some time with Rebecca Vint, another robust, physical forward much like Schroka. They have clicked nicely and helped garner their most recent 3-1 win against the Connecticut Whale on Dec. 16th.
Taking It Shift by Shift
No matter who Schroka has as her linemates in Buffalo, she continues to maintain the same mindset. Like a Barry Sanders, like a Tomas Holmstrom, Kaylyn Schroka is not easily rattled or neutralized, if at all. When she is out on the ice, this is what she us thinking:
“I take it shift by shift and focus on working hard but being smart every shift. Making every shift count toward trying to create something.”
— Adrian Bulldogs (@AdrianBulldogs) March 17, 2017
There is no question that Schroka will stick to this mantra for as long as she plays hockey. Separately, you can be certain that she applies this same attitude and commitment to everyday life. Give it another year or two, and you may see her with a “C” on an NWHL jersey. She has the character, drive and intellect to be a most effective captain for any team. Right now in Buffalo she continues to lead by example.