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Girls Hockey Weekend a Hallmark for Minnesota Whitecaps

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In what has proven to be one of the most sensational seasons in Minnesota Whitecaps history, highlighted by coverage in the New York Times, the return of inaugural member Jenny Potter, rookie Kendall Coyne capturing the NCAA’s Today’s Top 10 Award, and an outdoor scrimmage with the Korean national women’s ice hockey team, which saw Hannah Brandt face off against her adopted sister, the opportunity to give back to the community shall always comprise one of the club’s core values. Fostering an environment of encouragement and friendship, the Whitecaps shined as admirable role models during Minnesota Girls Hockey Weekend.

Sponsored by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, the organization showed a touch of class by allowing the Whitecaps to have a booth in the concourse of their arena during one of their regular season games, raising awareness of one of the best kept secrets in hockey.
For Angela Zevnik, a blueliner with the Whitecaps who was happily on-hand at the booth, graciously speaking to fans and signing autographs, it brought tremendous meaning to see the Wild show their support. Pulling double-duty as one of the instructors during the Weekend, her hockey background is an impressive amalgam of both playing and coaching.

The product of Greenfield, Wisconisin anchored the blueline during a sparkling four-year run at Saint Anselm College, taking on the mantle of the captaincy in her senior season of 2011-12. Prior to university, she also showed proficiency in softball, gaining varsity letters.

From a coaching perspective, her body of work involved a stint as head coach with the Highland Central Hockey Association during the 2013-14 season. Currently in a role as an assistant coach for the Varsity Girls team at the Breck School, Zevnik is part of a fantastic all-female staff who have all donned the Whitecaps jersey at one time.

Among them are head coach Ronda Curtin, one of the stars during the nascent years of Golden Gophers hockey, along with Bethany Brausen. In addition to her work with Breck, Zevnik has also spent several years as an instructor with OS Hockey Training. Zevnik certainly helped to increase awareness about the Whitecaps, which also signifies the remarkable teamwork that defines its winning culture. 

“Yes, it was a lot of fun to be at the concourse helping to raise awareness for the Whitecaps. There was a good amount of people who stopped to ask about whom the Whitecaps were, where they play, who’s on the team, etc. It was a great opportunity to share the story and create some interest in coming to a future game.”

Another member of the Whitecaps that admirably gave her time at the booth and as an instructor was inaugural member Brooke White-Lancette. Undoubtedly one of the club’s most well-known players, the opportunity to be at the booth with several of her teammates during the Wild game, allowed the people who dropped by to truly be in the presence of one of the living legends of women’s ice hockey.
Gracious yet humble, White-Lancette and her teammates were also joined by head coach and manager Laura Halldorson, whose legendary run with the Minnesota Golden Gophers placed the program among the upper echelon in NCAA hockey. Carving a new legacy with the Whitecaps, Halldorson’s continued involvement in the women’s hockey game is of great benefit to the State of Hockey.

Focused on fun, for players and fans alike, the booth was more than an opportunity for fans to learn about the club. It helped to fulfill one of the club’s core values; one that sees all highly dedicated to creating a positive experience, especially with fans. As White-Lancette recounts, there were many highlights offered at the booth which worked towards such an experience,

“(We had) autographs, including a drawing for an autographed copy from the entire team.  This was especially popular with youth players who had actually been coached by active members of the Whitecaps team.

It gave girls a chance to say hello to their very own coach or see some of the players they have admired who are members of the Whitecaps. We presented our newly designed Whitecaps apparel, now available for sale on the website.”

In addition, fans who dropped by were able to watch footage of the Whitecaps historic match against the NWHL’s Boston Pride, the first professional women’s hockey match in the State of Hockey. For the hockey fan unfamiliar with the Whitecaps, this was truly an experience that allowed them to see first-hand the type of world class talent that is currently helping to shape the modern professional women’s game.

Such exposure to a game between two of the most well-known women’s club teams in the United States was definitely an education for those unfamiliar with the women’s game. As White-Lancette elaborates, she emphasizes that the informational aspect was a key factor that generated significant feedback at the booth, which should hopefully result in new fans,

“The most prevalent feedback was from fans who were interested in the history of the Minnesota Whitecaps and who we are, who we play and where we play our games. Fans were also surprised by the high level of play as they watched our game vs. the Boston Pride, a women’s professional team in the NWHL, shown in the background.

The booth gave girls and women coming to see a professional men’s hockey game, a sense of pride that women could play hockey at a high level showing speed, skill and finesse.

Our game vs. the Pride was the NWHL’s inaugural first televised game in Minnesota. It demonstrated our unique platform and showcased the talent, backgrounds and experiences of all of our players which include Division I, former and current National Team players, as well as, form?e?r and current Olympians.”

Adding to the proud sense of community and camaraderie during this eventful weekend was the fact that the Wild invited Team USA alum and former Whitecaps skater Natalie Darwitz the chance to grace their ice and practice with them. A post-practice handshake between Darwitz and Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau became very popular on social media, another prime example of the growing respect for the women’s game, while symbolically displaying acceptance.

Taking into account that the last few seasons have seen the likes of other Team USA stars such as Hilary Knight and Anne Schleper Whitecaps alum) practice with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning, Darwitz adds to an empowering sense of history.

Such history is enhanced by the fact that during this season, a pair of inspiring women has made inroads in the men’s game. The Phoenix Coyotes hired the first female coach in league history, while Kori Cheverie served as an assistant coach with Toronto’s Ryerson University Rams becoming the first full-time female assistant in CIS men’s ice hockey.

Not only do the efforts of Darwitz, along with the aforementioned, enhance the status of women’s hockey players as positive role models, she embodies the importance of sporting equality. To see her former teammate skate with the Wild was a proud moment for an elated White-Lancette,

“As a former Minnesota Whitecaps team member, Natalie has remained active in the Minnesota hockey community we all serve, promoting our sport as a mentor, role? ?model and coach.  Since Natalie’s days with the Whitecaps, she has continued our Team Mission which is to give back to the next generation of female hockey players,” proclaimed White-Lancette.

Considering that so many of the inaugural members of the Whitecaps spent their early years in the game having to play with boys, some possibly the object of scorn among their male teammates, it was a necessity due to the fact that so many regions did not ice girls’ teams. While it was a struggle for more than just respect, but a struggle to prove that women were worthy of a place on the ice, the evidence today proves that it was one well worth it.

The rise of registered players during the 2000s, and subsequently, the increase in leagues for women’s, both competitive and recreational, are gratifying examples of the sometimes difficult road that their predecessors endured, in order to bring about the modern reality. White-Lancette reflects on her years growing up in New York State,

“It is especially rewarding for me to see our generation come full-circle having started playing boys hockey.  It reminds me of my days of playing boys high school hockey in Lake Placid, NY, as there were no girls High? ?School Hockey teams. 

Natalie told of playing on the same youth team with Zach Parise. It was only fitting that she c?a?me full circle at a later age and demonstrate?d (that) she can still skate with the pros!!!! 

I feel these experiences ha?ve? led to our longevity in the sport, as several Whitecaps players, such as myself, Winny Brodt, Jenny Potter and Natalie Darwitz, continue to play with a solid foundation which keeps us playing the sport we love at the highest level in both competitive men’s and women’s hockey.”

Proudly contributing to such a foundation is Zevnik. Complemented by her coaching credentials from the Breck School, the chance for Zevnik to serve as an instructor in several of the on-ice clinics at the X-Cel Center, home ice for the Wild, resulted in a gratifying time, two-fold.

From the outset, Zevnik and her Whitecaps teammates shared their knowledge while encouraging aspiring players to follow their dreams. In addition, it allowed them the chance to serve as ambassadors for the women’s game in the State of Hockey, providing these youngsters with an empowering group of role models to look up to.

“It is always an amazing time to coach the younger kids that have a clean slate and pure love for the game. It always reminds you of why and how everyone started playing. Love their energy and competitiveness on the ice.

The main thing is to keep it fun and keep them interested. I think Minnesota hockey along with the Whitecaps did a great job with that.” 

Undoubtedly, the chance to participate in the on-ice clinics on the Wild’s home ice represented so much more than providing instructors and participants alike with a remarkable highlight. It allowed for a major league feeling on this day, an important message that the women’s game is one that is worthwhile.

Both Zevnik and White-Lancette were part of an all-female staff of coaches and instructors during the Weekend, another positive aspect to the game’s growth. In her reflections on the most memorable elements, White-Lancette is quick to point out that enjoyment was definitely evident among the jubilant youngsters,   

“For me, the most enjoyable activity was running the on-ice clinics. With my passion for ?p?laying and ?c?oaching, I strive to inspire the next generation while giving back to the sport that has given me so much in life. The girls were so excited to be on the same ice, in the locker rooms and arena at the Xcel Energy Center where they watch their favorite Wild players play on TV.

The excitement from having an all female staff comprised of Whitecaps players, USA Hockey Staff and Minnesota Hockey Representatives gave the girls a broad perspective of coaching.

Across the two days of clinics, we had four separate age groups ranging from 8 years – Adult. All four Clinics were a success, the players had fun, learned a lot and had an experience that they will never forget.”

Reflecting jubilantly on the event’s ability to promote the positive aspects of the game, while cultivating camaraderie and amity, Zevnik sees the success of the event as one where all involved made a significant contribution. While the Wild were the exemplary vehicle to help brilliantly shape this outstanding occasion, everyone who participated was just as essential. Undoubtedly, the delight was shared by players, parents and coaches alike, definitely making this event one of the highlights of this season’s hockey calendar.

“It is awesome to see the support from the Wild. Not only from the aspect of just the Whitecaps, but from every child able to be there, and parent able to experience that weekend. It brings so much awareness to girls/women’s hockey even beyond what the Wild know. Those girls (including myself) will have those memories forever. Thank you to the Wild for helping with such a special weekend!” 

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images supplied by Minnesota Whitecaps – Acknowledgements: Laura Halldorson

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