For incoming Gophers forward Jimmy Snuggerud, the only goal that matters is a national title
A rare third-generation Minnesota Gopher, talented forward Jimmy Snuggerud has the NHL Draft and a potential World Juniors roster spot coming up. But wearing maroon and gold, his sights are set solely on being college hockey's last team on the ice next April.
EDINA, Minn. – It was a sunny summer Wednesday afternoon in the suburbs, and the main ice sheet at Braemar Arena was abuzz with a few dozen peewee-age skaters being put through a variety of drills. Meanwhile, their mostly oblivious parents read on iPads or “worked from home” on their laptops in the bleachers.
A quick survey of the hockey jerseys worn by these pre-teens showed one Sidney Crosby and about a half-dozen dreaming of being the next Kirill Kaprizov. Someday, not too far down the road, a few Minnesota peewees might be wearing Jimmy Snuggerud sweaters during their summer hockey sessions. But there is much exciting work that needs to be done between now and then.
Snuggerud, who turned 18 on the first day of June, took in the scene in an outfit perfectly fitting for his hockey present and future. He wore a USA Hockey t-shirt, which was no doubt a leftover from spending the past two seasons with the National Team Development Program in Michigan. On his head, flipped backward, was a Minnesota Gophers hat, reflective of the place he will soon follow in the strides of his father and grandfather, both of whom skated for the maroon and gold.
And within the next month, there will be another future team he will be able to represent. He just doesn’t know which of the NHL’s 32 franchises that will be yet.
In next month’s NHL Draft, Snuggerud is projected to be a first round pick according to nearly every pro scouting service. At the recent NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo, he was interviewed by either a general manager or a scouting director from nearly every team from Anaheim to Winnipeg. He admitted it is an odd situation, waiting to hear who might employ you one day, and where you might live and work for the bulk of your professional career.
Born into the trade
Some kids start college with lots of questions, uncertain about their major, about their group of friends and about what they want to accomplish on campus. For Jimmy Snuggerud, there is an easy and obvious answer when it comes to his immediate goals when he gets to the U of M and puts on a Gophers sweater.
In a six-minute conversation at that rink in Edina, the words “national championship” were uttered no less than three times. Last winter he watched his future team win a Big Ten title and return to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014, but in 2023 the expectation is to be playing in college hockey’s final game in April, and to win it. If Snuggerud and his team are able to do so, it will correct a perceived wrong in their family from more than three decades ago.
Dave Snuggerud was a standout player on the 1989 Gophers, who won the WCHA title and stormed to the NCAA title game, played at the St. Paul Civic Center before a sellout crowd that was seemingly all waving maroon and gold pom-poms.
Led by college hockey’s top goalie in Robb Stauber and perhaps then-coach Doug Woog’s deepest collection of talent, the Gophers were a powerhouse, and their rabid fans were expecting a coronation that Saturday night in downtown St. Paul. Instead, they fell to Harvard in overtime, after Gophers forward Randy Skarda notoriously clanked the post early in the extra session. It would be another dozen years before the Gophers would claim a national championship.
Jimmy Snuggerud was born many years after his father’s final college game, but he has heard plenty of fatherly advice that stems from that loss.
“He tells me the story of them losing to Harvard his last year there, and he hates that,” Jimmy said. “So he’s telling me to go there and win it.”
The elder Snuggerud played nearly 300 games in the NHL for Buffalo, San Jose and Philadelphia, then closed out his pro career with a lone season back at the Civic Center, playing for the minor league Minnesota Moose. He retired to a career as a teacher and coach at Chaska High School, which is a future Jimmy may pursue as a secondary option. But the soon-to-be Gopher makes it very clear that he comes to the U of M fully intent on training for a career in professional hockey first and foremost.
“I’m looking at education or maybe sports management as a major,” Jimmy said. “I’m going there to play hockey now, with some school on the side.”
Come to the U, and bring friends
It’s rare for Bob Motzko to heap praises on opposing players after a game, but he made a notable exception on Jan. 3, following a 5-3 exhibition win over the USA Hockey National U18 team in Minneapolis. The visitors led 3-1 before a four-goal Gopher rally led to a win. One of those three goals by Team USA came when Snuggerud scored on Justen Close, with an assist by linemate Logan Cooley.
“I loved it, how he won the puck battle down low,” Motzko said, with a huge smile. “He’s going to be a fun player.”
At the time, Cooley was still officially committed to Notre Dame, but had made it clear that he was exploring his college options. It was around that time that Cooley, who is a dynamic forward from Pittsburgh and is projected by many to be a top three pick in the upcoming draft, confided to Snuggerud that the Gophers were strongly under consideration.
“It was kind of out of the blue that he said Minnesota was in his top three,” Snuggerud recalled, immediately enlisting help from Team USA defenseman Ryan Chesley, who is also Gophers-bound. “Chesley and I were recruiting him to come here and win a national championship.”
Sure enough, on a Thursday in February, Cooley posted a Goldy Gopher logo on his Instagram page, and made plans to wear maroon and gold next winter. While Motzko’s line charts are usually quite fluid, it is an opportunity for him to employ some familiarity among two of his young players.
“I played with him from December through the end of the year, so there’s a lot of chemistry and we play well together,” Snuggerud said of his on-ice relationship with Cooley. “It’s going to be a really fun team with those guys like (Matthew) Knies and (Brock) Faber and (Ryan) Johnson coming back to win a national championship.”
Interviews and intensity
The draft is now just a few weeks away. Snuggerud has an impressive on-ice resume, and had in-person interviews with team personnel from nearly every NHL club at the combine in May. But he is not coasting into the night that will determine much about his professional future. Two days a week, Snuggerud is on the ice at Braemar working with legendary trainer Jack Blatherwick to improve his skating dynamics. Two more days a week he works with trainers on things like passing and shooting, which Snuggerud considers among his strengths.
He has gotten together with his future teammates a few times, both on campus and on Monday nights when the Gophers play softball in a rec league. Snuggerud said that even with double-digits in newcomers, there is a sense that this Gophers team has a chance to do something special.
“The next few months are going to be really exciting. I’ve been down (to campus) a little bit and have met the guys. I played in that atmosphere for the exhibition game which was really cool,” he said. “We have a really good freshman group of 10 guys and a lot of character coming in. We’re going to have a really good team, and that’s exciting.”
He will also take some time for normal Minnesota summer stuff, like golfing and getting away to a cabin near Grand Rapids. In late July, Snuggerud will head back to suburban Detroit – where he played for Team USA – to try out for the World Juniors roster. And before that, he will sit in a rink in Montreal and hear his name called, and don the jersey and hat of a NHL team in a city where he expects to live, work and raise a family someday. It will be a life-changing experience, but with all that lies ahead, it is just another reason for Snuggerud to get pumped for the future.
“Whatever team takes me, I’m excited for it,” he said, with a smile.