MINNEAPOLIS — For many high school athletes, that first recruiting letter from a college coach is a source of elation. When a green and white envelope from a college coach arrived at Alex Woken’s house in Fargo in her early teens, it was a potential source of family controversy, as the postmark was from another Red River Valley town, an hour or so to the north.
Woken’s father, Scott, is an associate athletic director at North Dakota State, so when that recruiting letter from UND arrived, there was a father-daughter conversation to be had.
“It was inevitable being 80 miles away that they were going to recruit her, but I knew better,” Scott joked.
Instead, after three years at a prep school, Alex ended up being a Minnesota Gopher, where in her first three seasons of college hockey she has already made three trips to the NCAA tournament and two runs to the Frozen Four. With the University of North Dakota dropping their program in 2017, it is obvious Alex made the right choice for her. Still, she smiles when thinking about her father and that first recruiting letter.
“I don’t know what he would’ve done if I would’ve ended up going to UND,” Alex said prior to a Gophers practice this week. “They were the first school that reached out to me, because I am a North Dakota kid. And I thought that would be cool, but in the back of my mind I also thought, I cannot go to UND. My dad wouldn’t have been able to wear any UND stuff. No chance.”
To this day, Scott admits that he wears a Bison T-shirt under his maroon Gophers pullover when he attends Alex’s games. Due to the gridiron success of his employer, that is not always easy.
“In my position, I don’t get to see much hockey until football is over,” Scott said. “Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for the hockey side of it, we play football into January so often that it really cuts into it. After football is over I get to most of them.”
And when he is in the stands, Scott has been able to see his daughter having a breakout season offensively as a senior. Heading into the Gophers’ series at Bemidji State this weekend, Alex has 26 points in 29 games, good for fifth on the team in scoring. The Gophers coaches say that Alex brings an array of talents to the ice.
“She puts tremendous energy on the puck and is very sound defensively,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “When you talk about people who work hard, Alex is one of those. She’s extremely fast, she kills penalties and this year is having a career year offensively as well.”
That speed is her calling card. Left to her own devices, Alex looks for open ice, and linemates know to look for her with breakout passes.
“She’s super fun on the bench and super fast on the ice,” said forward Amy Potomak, who has skated with Woken much of the season. “Off the ice she’s in the gym probably seven days a week ... Sometimes I’ll just flick (the puck) out of the zone and try to get it ahead of her because I know she can beat any d-man. It’s super helpful too that if we are hemmed in our zone and I see her flying across the ice, I can just ice it and I know she’s fast enough to beat that icing.”
The on-ice flash and speed is in sharp contrast to Woken’s work in the classroom, where she is studying neuroscience, and is known for her seemingly endless talks with teammates about the mice they study while researching ways to combat Alzheimer's disease.
“We work with brain tissue with mice. Their brains are really tiny,” Alex said. “My teammates think it’s funny that I talk about mice so much and their brains but it’s pretty normal for me.”
With roughly six weeks left in her college hockey career, Alex has future plans to take a gap year and hopefully play hockey overseas next season, then pursue veterinary school. But first there are conference playoffs and another shot at winning a Frozen Four. After three years of prep school hockey, and nearly four years with the Gophers, the realization that less than two months remain is hard to avoid.
“We think about it a lot,” Alex admitted. “I’m really trying to be present, because I don’t want this to end.”