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Whitecaps Widen Scope with Sensational Appearance in Sweden

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With one of the most formidable legacies in American women’s ice hockey, the Minnesota Whitecaps continue to find ways to build on their tremendous achievements while inspiring new generations of players. The stature of the club is an integral part of the game’s growing heritage. With a Clarkson Cup championship that propelled the team into hockey immortality, every subsequent season is an opportunity to appreciate its uniqueness.

Featuring a list of alumnae that boasts some of the world’s finest players, along with admired exposure in the New York Times, the club has even enjoyed the opportunity to take to the ice at the XL Center, home of the NHL’s Wild. Complemented by the historic series against the NWHL’s Boston Pride, the first professional women’s hockey matches in Minnesota, the importance of the Whitecaps only continues to grow.

Last season, the Whitecaps challenged Team Korea in an outdoor game, adding another milestone to its international presence. Undoubtedly, the most cherished presence of this event saw Hannah Brandt, a first year competitor who will be playing for gold with the USA at the Winter Games in 2018, face off against her adopted sister, a member of Korea.

In the aftermath of such a monumental event, the legacy of the wondrous Whitecaps took on new luster. Crossing the Atlantic with a squad of 17 players, the summer of 2017 saw the Whitecaps participate in a series of exhibition games in the hockey-mad country of Sweden.

Whitecaps veteran Marley McMillan, also a prominent broadcaster, was the catalyst for such a fascinating time. Of note, McMillan’s hockey legacy in Minnesota also includes a Midwest Elite Hockey League title, along with serving as a former assistant captain for the Minnesota Thoroughbreds.

Having never missed a game while she competed for the Dartmouth Big Green, which included recognition as an ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team member, such dedication and a solid work ethic on the ice were also evident off the ice. Working tirelessly as the organizer for the trip to Sweden, her assiduous efforts in ensuring that the Whitecaps could take part in such a memorable milestone is testament to her strong leadership. 

In discussing the opportunity to bring the club to Sweden, the essence of team spirit certainly stands as one of its hallmarks. Already featuring a very strong team culture built on mutual respect and a shared love of the game, the Whitecaps definitely play for the love of the game, simultaneously encouraging younger players in the State of Hockey to pursue their own sporting dreams.

For McMillan, a point of pride was the fact that this great culture shone brightly in Sweden, fostering the spirit of friendship, fair play and sportsmanship,

“Having several Whitecaps players on the trip meant many of us were already bonded both on and off the ice. It was nice to have the Whitecaps’ go-getter, positive attitude already in place, and our numbers show how much we care about the game. Additionally, the bonds developed and playing experience will only benefit us in the regular season.”

Worth noting, some members of the Whitecaps roster already enjoyed the opportunity to have played in Sweden before, approaching this unique journey with an element of experience. Among such players was Allie Thunstrom, a former member of the US national team, who participated in the 2010 4 Nations Cup.

Having amassed over 125 career points at the NCAA level with the Boston College Eagles, the native of Maplewood was also the recipient of the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award in 2006. A multi-sport star who also gained All-State honors in high school for softball and soccer, Thunstrom also took up speed skating, participating in the 2014 US Olympic Trials.

Of note, Thunstrom also competed with the US national women’s bandy team. In 2016, she took to the ice for the Women’s World Championships, which were hosted at the Guidant John Rose Oval in Roseville, Minnesota, definitely adding to the sense of home ice advantage.

“The opportunity to travel across the ocean with 17 great friends is hard to pass up. Sweden itself is a beautiful country with so much to explore and experience. I had been to different parts of Sweden before but had never had a chance to spend time in Stockholm and I am so glad I was able to go on this trip because it was amazing.

The history, the culture, the hockey…everything was better than expected and getting to experience it with the players on the Whitecaps really put the exclamation point on the trip.”

With a four-game exhibition series involving all three professional women’s ice hockey teams from Stockholm that compete in the Svenska Damhockeyligan: Djurgårdens IF, AIK and SDE, the Whitecaps graced the ice at the iconic Hovet Arena, located in Johanneshov.

Taking into account all the world-class competitors that have donned the Whitecaps jersey, it was fitting that there was a formidable presence with Djurgårdens IF. Danijela Rundqvist, a former competitor with Sweden in the Winter Games, serves as the director of operations for Djurgårdens IF, testament to the fact that women are taking on well-deserved leadership roles in hockey after hanging up their skates.

Of note, the Whitecaps’ final game against Djurgårdens IF, also brought the Swedish experience full circle for goaltender Cassi Carpenter Grander. As sport was only part of this fascinating passage, the native of Circle Pines, Minnesota recounts how the team benefited from some rare downtime by exploring and appreciating the cultural elements.

Observing one of Sweden’s natural wonders, the archipelago islands (of which there are over 30,000 in Sweden), this unique geographical area has been inhabited since the sixth century. The second largest archipelago in the Baltic Sea, key industries included fishing and iron works. Stockholm, which is known in Norse mythology as Agnafit, consists of 14 islands, with a chain of hundreds of islands along its coast.

“It is hard to say one moment stuck out in my mind more than another. However, if had to choose it would be our final day in Stockholm. Our whole team spent the day exploring Stockholm’s 301 archipelago islands. We ended the day on the ice playing against Djurgärden, our host team. Does not get much better than that!”

In discussing the origins of the event, McMillan makes reference to a homegrown talent whose unique connection to the Whitecaps augmented discussion about potential competition in Sweden. With the linkages between generations, competing in Sweden simultaneously paid homage to the game’s grass roots in the State of Hockey, while recognizing the positive impact of the Whitecaps in helping shape the game’s future. 

“The experience came about when Chris Middlebrook, a local hockey parent and supporter, contacted us in January 2017 wondering if the Whitecaps would be interested in a trip to play in Sweden. Chris has been sending Bandy teams to Europe for a number of years, and has a lot of connections in Sweden.

Chris’s daughter Delaney graduated from RPI last year, and she spent last winter playing and winning a championship for Djurgarden, several Whitecaps have known Chris and Delaney for a long time, having coached Delaney since she was young.”

A competitor at St. Paul United, where she logged 26 points in her final season (2010-11), which included the Spartan Cup Award plus the Athena Award, Delaney Middlebrook’s NCAA career consisted of time spent with the now defunct Niagara Purple Eagles from the College Hockey American conference, while graduating as a member of the ECAC’s Rensselaer Engineers.

Donning the Engineers colors, the business major was a three-time ECAC Academic Selection. As a side note, she was one of 20 teammates reaching All-Academic Status in 2014-15, a league high. Other Minnesotans on the Engineers roster during that season included co-captain Mari Mankey, Hannah Behounek and Amanda Kimmerle.

Reaching a career high in points during her senior season, the last NCAA goal of Middlebrook’s career took place on December 5, 2014 against the Brown Bears. Of note, her final point would bring with it tremendous heroics. Recording an assist on a goal scored by Lauren Wash, in a January 24, 2015 tilt with the Union Dutchwomen, said goal stood as the game-winner.

Graduating to the professional ranks in Sweden, Middlebrook, a member of the Minneapolis Hockey Hall of Fame, became a second generation star. Of note, her father Chris played bandy professionally in Sweden, also competing on the US national bandy team.

Competing with HV71 during the 2015-16 season, she moved on to Djugardens IF afterwards, capturing a 2017 league championship. Heading into her third professional season, Middlebrook shall suit up for her third team, calling Farjestad BK her new home.

Undoubtedly, the chance for the Whitecaps to see a fellow Minnesotan make her mark internationally was definitely a point of pride. Considering that several of the Whitecaps participants in Sweden are from the same age group as Middlebrook, she is definitely a name that evokes feelings of nostalgia, rekindling the fond memories of their competitive years in high school and college.

As the recipient of the prestigious Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award, Bethany Brausen also captured an NCAA Frozen Four with the revered Golden Gophers. Part of the Whitecaps contingent in Sweden, her formative years were spent calling Middlebrook a teammate on numerous junior teams.

The chance for Brausen’s hockey odyssey to intersect with Middlebrook once again represented a cherished chance to see how these two competitors have blossomed into hockey luminaries. In discussing the evolution of Middlebrook’s career, there is no question that Brausen is proud of her success,

“Absolutely.  It is great to hear about Delaney Middlebrook’s success in Europe and does not surprise me! She is a talented player who I always enjoyed playing with growing up.  It is great that there is an opportunity to play over seas once your college career is over.  While we have the CWHL and the NWHL, having the opportunity to travel the world while playing the sport you love is incredible.  It is something that Delaney Middlebrook has capitalized on, and been very successful doing so, and I am very happy for her!”

Although Middlebrook was not on the ice for the Whitecaps games, there is no question that she held a special place in the hearts of the participating players, euphoric at the success of a fellow “homegrown” talent making her mark. Thunstrom certainly echoed those sentiments, gaining an appreciation for her experiences in Sweden, graciously acknowledging the positive direction for the female game taking place,

“Definitely very proud to see a fellow Minnesotan and American make her mark on a championship team in the Swedish league. We were very impressed by the level of play as well as the organization of the league itself. To see the excitement and growth of women’s hockey in Sweden is remarkable and to have some of our own players be a part of it is really great.”

As a side note, professional women’s ice hockey in Sweden, which also features Canadian superstar and Winter Games gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield in its ranks, has also benefited from other significant American influences. Molly Engstrom departed from the Connecticut Whale of the NWHL to continue her hockey endeavors in Sweden.

Emma Stauber, an alum from the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, continued her competitive endeavors in Sweden following graduation. In addition, Andrea Dalen and Josefine Jakobsen, part of a tremendous influence of European superstars that competed at the NCAA level with North Dakota, also brought their titanic talents to Sweden, balancing the time there with respective commitments to their own national teams.

Having called the three aforementioned players as rivals in NCAA hockey was Brausen. As her Golden Gophers squad belonged to the WCHA conference, which also housed the Bullodgs and North Dakota, they were part of the most dominant gathering of collegiate programs in the nation. As a side note, Engstrom also played in the WCHA, skating for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Brausen was grateful at the chance to explore the thrill of competing overseas, gaining a reciprocal understanding of what it must have been like for the European players to adapt to competing in America. Playing in Sweden allowed Brausen the chance to grasp the European approach to the game, absorbing different tactics and schemes. The learning experience also extended to enriching her enjoyment of the game,

“I think any time you are able to travel internationally and play hockey, it is an amazing opportunity.  Being able to play against players with completely different game styles and strategy makes the competition that much more exciting. 

Having been fortunate to have success in the past at Roseville and the University of Minnesota has allowed me to even be considered for opportunities like the Whitecaps trip to Sweden, and that is something I am extremely grateful for. 

We were able to bring a great group of talent over there, and were exposed to some tremendous hockey.  Even more so, we were able to grow in friendships and as people throughout the week, which is what sports are fundamentally about.”

Sharing goaltending duties with Allie Morse between the pipes for the Whitecaps, it was the kind of milestone that resulted in a lifetime of memories for an ecstatic Carpenter Grander. As one of the veteran players on the roster, the Wisconsin Stevens-Point alum approached the chance to compete in Sweden with a gleeful demeanor.

Euphoric at the opportunity to expand her horizons in such a unique setting, it was a reminder of what made Carpenter Grander proud to don the team’s colors, 

“Being able to play with the Whitecaps in Sweden was an incredible opportunity. If you would have told me five years ago that I would have the chance to play in Sweden, I would have said no way. It is crazy for me to even think that I am still apart of this talented team.

The Minnesota Whitecaps have allowed me to continue my passion and I am so incredibly grateful for that. Playing alongside some of the most talented hockey players in such a beautiful country has easily made this a trip of a lifetime. I cherish every memory we made on and off the ice.”

While the Whitecaps return to America has resulted in another exciting season spent competing against elite clubs throughout the WCHA, there is a unique complexion to the club’s identity. As McMillan mentions, the quality of hockey was only part of the experience.

Some unforeseen hiccups resulted in a true showing of friendship and support, while incorporating elements of humor. Such moments transformed the team, resulting in a much more profound appreciation of its competitors as more than just elite athletes, but as tremendous people. Along with the physical adjustment attributed to the vast difference in terms of time zones, the result was a chance at strengthening ties, simultaneously enhancing the feeling of unity that makes the Whitecaps such an admired organization, 

“Looking back at our trip to Sweden, my favorite moments are those spent with the team, both in and outside of the rink. Two of our players’ equipment was lost for our first game, so they ended up scrounging through extra equipment from the opposing team in order to play. They did, and they looked so funny to all of us, but we were so grateful to have them out there.

We also had a hard time adjusting to the time difference, so many of us stayed up talking and laughing into the wee hours of the night. Those moments along with the opportunity to see and play abroad made for a trip of a lifetime.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images supplied by Marley McMillan

Whitecaps roster in Sweden:

Defense – Rose Alleva, Winny Brodt-Brown (inactive), Lisa Martinson, Lexi Slattery

Forwards – Bethany Brausen, Kalli Funk, Paige Jahnke (also on D), Margo Lund, Marley McMillan  (also on D), Lyndsay Oden, Meaghan Pezon  (also on D), Brit Ralph  (also on D), Hayley Schmid, Allie Thunstrom, Angela Zevnik  (also on D)

Goaltenders – Cassi Carpenter Grander, Allie Morse

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