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From skaters to settlers, old-school board game groups provide Gophers some fun away from the rink

Needing things to do other than skate, eat and sleep during the holiday break, Colin Schmidt brought a popular board game to campus. In the six weeks since then, Catan has taken the Gophers by storm.

A Catan board dominated the living room table in the Dinkytown apartment shared by Minnesota Gophers men's hockey players Mike Koster, Brock Faber, Carl Fish and Mason Nevers in Minneapolis.
Contributed / Mike Koster

MINNEAPOLIS – When pressed, Minnesota Gophers veteran defenseman Mike Koster offers sure-fire advice on the best way to win a tightly-contested game among fierce competitors.

“You have to adjust as the game is going,” Koster said after a recent Gophers practice. “There are so many moving parts that you have to adjust and think of new strategies as you go.”

Koster’s teammate Matt Staudacher, a senior defenseman who is redshirting this season, offered a different take on what he does to ensure victory.

“A good strategy I have is to collect wood, and then get a wood port,” Staudacher said. “People want the wood early in the game, and then I’m the salesman.”

Another Gophers defender, Hobey Baker nominee Jackson LaCombe says that he’s learned to build long roads as a way to take an early lead.


Media Day
Minnesota Gophers defenseman Mike Koster
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports

By now it should be clear that they’re not talking hockey.

In the past six weeks or so, several Gophers’ time away from the rink, when they’re not studying or going to class, has been dominated by the board game Catan , which has become a fun distraction away from the rigors of school and the pressures of being a high-profile college athlete.

A few of the Gophers had played the game prior to December. That is when, in the three weeks of doldrums between the return to campus after Christmas and the start of spring semester in mid January, several team members were looking for a new, fun and competitive way to pass the time.

“The guys at the senior house started playing Catan over Christmas break. My family loves that game and I’ve played it all the time, so I started walking over there,” Koster recalled.

I’m a founding member and I wasn’t getting the invite much anymore because all of them were hooked.
Mike Koster

During the break, a normal day involves a workout at the arena, practice on the ice, a team meal and then hours with no structured activity. Gophers coach Bob Motzko has urged the players to avoid excessive napping during the day, so they sleep better at night. Into that time void came Catan, in which three to six players take on the role of settlers in a land with various ecosystems, building roads and houses, collecting natural resources and trying to get the 10 victory points needed to win the game.

Senior forward Colin Schmidt is most widely credited for bringing Catan to the “hockey house” where several seniors live. There would be days during the break where they would play three or four games, which each last an hour or more. It has gotten so popular so quickly, that there are now multiple Catan groups within the team.

Media Day
Minnesota Gophers defenseman Matt Staudacher
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports

“Eventually all of the (senior) roommates started playing and the most you can have is six (players) so I quit getting calls,” Koster said, with mock outrage. “I’m a founding member and I wasn’t getting the invite much anymore because all of them were hooked. So my parents came down for a game, they gave me my board and I convinced my roommates to play and they got hooked.”

While he claims to dominate the games he plays against roommates like Carl Fish, Brock Faber and Mason Nevers at their Dinkytown apartment, others on the team offer an alternative theory for Koster’s split from the group of seniors and their Catan games.


“He was losing, so he needed to play against fresh meat,” Staudacher said, with a sly grin.

LaCombe admits he is hooked on Catan as well, having played a few times before Schmidt brought his board to campus in December. While countless college hockey players try to emulate what LaCombe does on the ice, he admits trying to mimic Schmidt’s successful board game tactics.

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“My strategy lately is ‘longest road,’ but it’s all in the board, and when guys see that, they start going after you,” LaCombe said, revealing the cutthroat nature of the competition among teammates. “So I’m taking a page out of Schmitty’s book where I play low-key and try to win at the end. It’s tough.”

While Staudacher tries to monopolize the wood resources, Koster says he is more of an ore and wheat collector. Not surprisingly, Jaxon Nelson — who grew up on a farm and is part of a well-known agrarian family in southwest Minnesota — has been known to have success hoarding wheat.

Media Day
Minnesota Gophers defenseman Jackson LaCombe
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports

And just to underscore that Catan success has little correlation with hockey success, Koster pointed out that one of the most successful and talented Gophers on the ice has his struggles while trying to move game pieces around the board.

“I want to make it known that (Matthew Knies) is the worst player I’ve played with so far,” Koster said, deadly serious. “He thinks he’s the best, but as a group, collectively, we think Kniesy struggles the most. But he’s competitive. He tries.”

Reached for comment later, Knies issued a staunch denial of his reputation as a sub-standard settler of Catan.


Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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