Maybe it is because she is married to a retired NHLer, but Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey coach Brad Frost said that Carrie Underwood has always been his favorite country music artist. Although after a summer hockey camp in Music City and a chance to see Dan + Shay, that hot duo grabs some of Frost’s musical attention these days as well.
Frost and the Gophers headed to Nashville on Thanksgiving afternoon riding a 10-game winning streak and prepared to face Mercyhurst on Friday and then either Colgate or Boston College on Saturday in a tournament called the Smashville Showcase.
It will be the second trip to Nashville for Frost’s team. In 2019, they beat Harvard and tied Boston College there, in games played at the Predators’ practice facility.
“I want our program to be about experiences,” Frost said this week. “Whether that’s Frozen Fours or heading to Nashville or whatever, we want to have experiences that they wouldn’t get if they weren’t playing hockey here for us. This is something that is really exciting for us.”
The players will have some free time on Lower Broadway, Nashville’s famed row of country music venues, and they will have a team meal at the Wildhorse Saloon following their game on Saturday. Frost added that it is definitely a business trip, and getting two wins to extend their winning streak is the primary focus.
“It’s fun. We started 1-3 and still felt like we were playing OK,” he said. “But we continued with our identity and who we want to be over the last month and a half. You never get tired of winning, regardless of how many in a row, so we just want to continue doing what we’re doing.”
The weekend in Nashville will include clinics and a youth hockey tournament designed to get more girls in non-traditional areas like the South interested in the game.
Thanksgiving traditions survive, even on the road
The Minnesota Gophers men’s team headed to North Dakota on Wednesday evening and was planning to have Thanksgiving dinner at their team hotel, which is quite common in the college hockey world. Coach Bob Motzko said that over time, since most teams are playing Thanksgiving weekend and assistant coaches are out recruiting, it gets to be just another routine Thursday.
“I remember recruiting once and eating (Thanksgiving dinner) at Old Country Buffet in Minot, North Dakota,” Motzko said. “It was the only thing open.”
He added that for teams it is easier to be on the road for the holiday than at home, where players may feel the pull of family. Although Motzko admitted that after the tragic loss of his son Mack in July, being away from home on Thanksgiving is harder for his family this year.
When the big meal is laid out, there were some interesting opinions on what to pass on and what to pile on your plate. For example, Gophers co-captain Ben Meyers said that cranberries are his favorite part of the meal. His coach has different ideas of an ideal Thanksgiving meal.
“All of it. There’s no favorite,” Motzko deadpanned when asked for his favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. “I don’t do cranberries, but I do everything else. Twice. As you can tell.”
And then there are the unique traditions of the Knies clan, where freshman Matthew and his extended family from Arizona by way of Slovakia have put their own twist on this American holiday.
“I celebrate a little bit different than everyone else. I don’t really have one favorite, but I’d guess the stuffing would be a little bit ahead of everything else,” said Knies, who was named the Big Ten’s second star of the week after a pair of multi-point games in a home split with Penn State.
His grandmother, who lives in Slovakia in the summer and Arizona in the winter, makes swordfish instead of turkey.
“We have some different foods at the table. We usually have fish as part of our Slovakian tradition,” Knies said. “I guess that’s her favorite thing to cook, and everyone loves to eat it.”
Gophers from North Dakota are rare
It will be a long time before Gophers fans forget the name of Grant Potulny, the Grand Forks native whose overtime winner lifted the U of M past Maine in the 2002 NCAA title game. The current Fighting Hawks roster features six Minnesotans who have crossed the Red River of the North to wear green and white, and the school's hockey program was started shortly after World War II by a pair of Minnesotans -- Cal Marvin from Warroad and John Noah from Crookston. And the late Ralph Engelstad from Thief River Falls donated the school's palatial home rink.
Conversely, the Potulny brothers (Grant and Ryan) are two of just eight North Dakota natives who have skated for the Gophers in the 101 seasons of hockey at the U of M. During his tenure as the Gophers’ coach, Don Lucia got nice contributions from the Potulnys and from Fargo native Danny Irmen. The others from North Dakota who wore the maroon and gold are Charles Norby (Grand Forks, 1965-68), James Gambucci (Grand Forks, 1970-73), James McKay (Pembina, 1965-66), Richard Nelson (Grand Forks, 1968-69) and David Lamb (Horace, 1986-87).
There were famously 12 Minnesotans on the 1980 Miracle on Ice Roster, and of those, nine played for coach Herb Brooks for the Gophers before donning red, white and blue. Of the other three non-Gopher Minnesotans on the squad, John Harrington and the late Mark Pavelich played at Minnesota Duluth, and Dave Christian played for North Dakota. On Saturday, the Fighting Hawks will honor Christian, who lives in the Twin Cities now, with an event called “One Last Shift” where noted alumni skate a few laps in uniform during warmups, greet the current team on the bench and stand on the blue line for the national anthem. Christian’s final game for North Dakota was the 1979 NCAA title match where the then-Fighting Sioux fell 4-3 to the Gophers at Olympia Stadium in Detroit.
Crease depth a boost for Gophers women
All successful hockey teams need a great goalie. The best teams have two. Frost’s Gophers are in a unique position this season, with four goalies who have all seen time between the pipes in their first 14 games.
Heading into the games in Nashville, the starts have been split between Makayla Pahl (5 games), Skylar Vetter (4 games) and Lauren Bench (5 games), while Olivia King has gotten time in two games. It is a stark contrast to Minnesota State, which ran out of goalies last weekend and had to make an emergency call-up.
"There’s some healthy competition there and there’s obviously some depth,” Frost said. “You look around the country and Mankato had to pull a goalie from their tennis team and play her last weekend because of injury. So obviously we’ve got the depth with the four of them. Three of them are competing for time and they’re all playing well.”
Indeed, all four Gophers goalies have saves percentages above .900 and all have factored into the current winning streak. Frost joked that he had not heard from Minnesota State about any potential trade offers for one of his goalies.
North Dakota broadcast details
The Gophers and Fighting Hawks will face off at 7 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Both games will be televised by Midco Sports with Alex Heinert handling play-by-play and former North Dakota goalie Jake Brandt providing color. The games are also available with a NCHC.tv subscription and Comcast XFinity will carry the games in the Twin Cities on Channel 999 and Mediacom Channel MC22.
The radio broadcast of both games is available per usual on 1130 AM and 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver on play-by-play and Frank Mazzocco on color.