When Hannah Brandt takes the ice at the TRIA Rink in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday, it won’t be her first time.
The Minnesota native skates for the Whitecaps, a National Women’s Hockey League team that plays its home games at the rink. But on Friday, her time won’t be spent practicing or playing a game with her regular team.
Brandt, a 2018 Olympic gold medalist, will skate alongside Minnesota Wild players at a team practice. She will participate in the practice as part of the Wild’s third annual Girls Hockey Weekend.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity and looking forward to having fun with it,” Brandt said. “It’s more fun than a normal practice.”
Brandt’s skate with the Wild will help kick off a weekend stocked full of activities to celebrate women’s and girls hockey. There will be on-ice clinics throughout the weekend, starting with an 8U clinic on Friday. The clinics will continue throughout the weekend for different age groups and will be led by Whitecaps players along with representatives from Minnesota Hockey.
On Saturday, the Wild will celebrate girls and women’s hockey before, during and after its game against the Calgary Flames. Former U.S. Women’s National Team member and former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson will announce “Let’s Play Hockey” before the game while the proceeds from the team’s usual in-game raffle will go toward the Whitecaps.
Brandt grew up with the Wild. She made a name for herself while growing up just outside of St. Paul in nearby Vadnais Heights. She went to high school at Hill-Murray in Maplewood, earning Ms. Hockey honors in 2012 as the state’s top girls player. She subsequently went on to a successful career at the University of Minnesota and winning a gold medal in PyeongChang.
Hannah Brandt and her Olympic teammates served as mentors to girls hockey players during a clinic in the Washington, D.C., area in March
Since joining the Whitecaps, Brandt has worked with the Wild as an ambassador. She travels around to different schools in the state with Wild players to promote physical fitness and well-being as part of the team’s Faceoff for Fitness program.
While participating in that program, Brandt was approached about practicing with the team. The answer was yes. Though it’s a unique event, Brandt isn’t worried about taking the ice with NHL players, she said.
Brandt is not the first woman to participate in an NHL practice. During each of the two previous girls hockey weekends, other women have skated with Minnesota. 2018 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Natalie Darwitz skated with the team in 2016 and Krissy Wendell participated in a Wild practice in 2017.
Other women’s players who have practiced with NHL teams include Hilary Knight and Anne Schleper.
Though Brandt knows Darwitz and Wendell, she hasn’t reached out to them for any advice on how to handle this unique opportunity.
“I might just have to go out there and see how it goes,” Brandt said. “But I think it will be a great opportunity.”
Brandt’s Whitecap teammates will be around for the entire weekend of activities. They are among the women’s players consistently giving back to the sport.
“Anyone who’s had the opportunity to play at a high level sees the opportunities this sport can give you,” Brandt said. “We want to continue to grow the game just based on what we’ve been able to get out of it.”
When the lights turn on Friday for the practice, which is open to the public, Brandt will be the one with the spotlight on her. It will also spotlight the continued partnership between the Wild and Whitecaps. While Brandt is embracing this rare opportunity, she hopes it can help grow the sport that has become such a big part of her life.
“The Wild in particular have done a great job in promoting women’s hockey,” Brandt said. “The more we can do with the NHL to spread the women’s hockey game the better. If any girls see me out there, hopefully they will see that there’s a chance for them to have a professional career one day.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.