If there was anyone who could appreciate the Edina girls’ hockey program getting over the hump and winning its first-ever state championship, it was Sami Reber.
As a player, Reber helped lead the Hornets to their first-ever state tournament appearance in 2009. During the 2016-17 season, she was behind the bench as Edina skated to a 28-1-1 record and won the state championship with a 4-0 win against Blaine.
In her second season as the Hornets’ head coach, the 2011 Edina High School graduate has returned home in a big way as she helped lead her alma mater to that much-elusive state championship. Reber is the first woman head coach to win a high school state championship in Minnesota and continues to bring the Hornets to the forefront of high school hockey.
As just a sophomore in 2009, Reber had an impact on Edina’s success. She was a major cog in the machine that helped the Hornets to the state tournament that season. Her performance included five goals in three games, including a hattrick that helped the Hornets past Elk River/Zimmerman in the third-place game.
“She was always working and driven to be the best she could be. There was just a way she approached the game,” said Laura Slominski, who coached Reber as a player at Edina.
In her career, Reber tallied 11 goals at the state tournament and was named to the all-tournament team each season from 2009 through 2011.
Unfortunately for Reber and the Hornets, they were unable to come home with the championship hardware during that stretch. Edina fell in the state title game in both 2010 and 2011.
The 2011 final was a heartbreaker as Reber’s final game with the Hornets was a 3-2 loss to conference rival Minnetonka. The Skippers took home the banner with the go-ahead goal coming with 39 seconds left in regulation.
Following a successful high school career, Reber spent four years playing at Harvard, where she tallied 26 goals and 82 assists in 134 games. While competing with the Crimson, Reber once again found herself leading a team to the sport’s highest levels. She made the ECAC all-academic team each of her four years at one of the Ivy League’s top institutions.
From 2013-15, Reber and Harvard made the NCAA Tournament. Reber’s collegiate career ended with her team making the Frozen Four in 2015. It was Harvard’s first appearance since 2008.
After the Crimson knocked off Boston College in the semifinals, Harvard ultimately fell to Minnesota in the national championship.
Once her playing career came to an end, Reber headed back toward the Midwest. She spent the 2015-16 season working as an assistant at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She spent her lone season as a collegiate assistant learning under the tutelage Bulldogs head coach Maura Crowell and assistant coach Laura Bellamy.
“I was put in a lot of different roles by Maura,” Reber said. “I was able to take on a lot of different responsibilities. I had to be involved and take on some major coaching duties.”
After just one season in Duluth, Reber looked back home. Slominski was stepping down to spend more time with her children. This led to Reber’s chance to take over the program.
“I wanted to get the head coaching job at some point, so I kind of just threw my hat in the ring,” Reber said. “I always wanted to come back to Edina. This was always my dream job.”
“I always wanted to come back to Edina. This was always my dream job.”-Sami Reber
Coming in, there was plenty left in the cupboard for Reber to work with. The Hornets were coming off a 20-9-1 season in 2016 and finished fourth in the Class 2A tournament. Edina came into the season with nine players committed to Div. I programs.
“I knew on paper we were going to be extremely talented. This was probably one of the most talented groups to ever come through Edina,” Reber said. “While I knew we were talented, I knew we were going to have to work extremely hard.”
Reber’s intuition about her team was correct. The Hornets came into the state tournament as the No. 1 seed in Class 2A. Edina rolled to a state championship while outscoring its opponents 12-1 in three games.
“It’s a feeling and emotion I’ll never forget,” Reber said. “It’s just such a huge stepping stone. So many girls have paved the way for us to get to that point. It’s an extremely special moment we won’t soon forget.”
In her second season, the Hornets have continued to stake their place at the top of the state. Edina finished the 2017-18 regular season No. 1 in the Class 2A coaches’ poll and entered the postseason with just two losses on its resume.
This season, Reber’s group includes eight players who are committed to play collegiate hockey. This includes senior forward Lolita Fidler, who was named a semifinalst for the 2018 Ms. Hockey award. Fidler will follow in Reber’s footsteps and head to Harvard next season.
As someone who was a college player just three years ago, Reber is someone who players can look to when it comes to receiving advice on playing at the next level.
“She’s someone who can easily relate to us since she isn’t that far removed from playing,” said Edina senior forward Aliyah Lance. “As players, we appreciate having someone like Sami who we can talk to about what it takes to play at the next level.”
Reber’s entrance into the high school head coaching game is part of a trend in the sport. She joins a group of younger female coaches who have stepped into lead some of the state’s top programs. The list includes the likes of Katie King, who took over the Centennial girls’ program at just 21 years old after playing as a standout at Stillwater and winning a pair of state championships.
“It’s just so exciting to see so many girls wanting to give back to the game,” Slominski said. “Minnesota high school hockey is just a unique place. You can see Sami’s passion for it and her desire to coach her alma mater. It’s one of the things that makes her truly special.”