|Senior Class of 2009
Their Gopher careers began on October 2005 with a 3-0 win over the University of Connecticut on the ice that would be their home for four years. A class of seven that lost three members and added another along the way, they had to wait four years before celebrating a championship, clinched with a 3-1 win over St. Cloud State to claim the WCHA’s regular season title on the final day.
A week later the outgoing seniors of 2009 shared with the Power Play Club thoughts on their days at Minnesota and plans for the future.
Kim Hanlon has learned a lot about Rachael Drazan while sitting next to her in the locker room, as she does on road trips.
“She’s a great girl, she’s just so superstitious about every little detail,” Hanlon said, listing Drazan’s towel and stick among the items that couldn’t be touched -- especially if the stick had already been taped. “She’s just funny; she’s a funny kid.”
Drazan has been a part of this class for three years, two on the ice, after sitting out a league-mandated red-shirt season after transferring from rival UMD.
“I was able to come in here as a second-chance and the team and the coaches accepted me after two years playing somewhere else, especially at Duluth,” she said.
Drazan’s proficiency on the ice no doubt eased that acceptance; she was named to an All-WCHA team in each of her four seasons and has been a member of several US national teams, including winning a gold medal at the 2008 World Championships, an experience she hopes to repeat.
“I am unbelievably fortunate right now to be in the position to go to World’s camp, and hopefully, have a good camp there and make [the US team for the World Championships in Finland],” Drazan said.
Next on the agenda would be the national team tryout camp in August and possibly a spot on the 2010 Olympic team.
“I’m definitely honored to be a part of that and have that opportunity in my life,” she said.
All of her prior USA Hockey involvement is definitely an asset.
“I played one 4 Nations Cup with Coach [Mark] Johnson, and it was a great experience and I learned a lot,” Drazan said. “I have played with almost everyone who is in the running, and that definitely gives you an advantage because you’re comfortable with the people you’re playing with and against. I think that there’s a nice support group that is going to be voting for each other and pushing for each other to get better.”
At times that international hockey has come with a price, like when she returned from November’s 4 Nations Cup with an injury. She said the injury taught her a lot, both in staying positive and fighting through the pain, as well as taking nothing for granted.
“Living every day for what it is worth -- you never know when it is going to end, so staying really positive.”
Overall, the US Hockey experience has brought far more positives than negatives.
“Just working in the community when people ask me what I’ve done and where I’m going it definitely opens their eyes and gives a newfound respect for the amount of time that I’ve put in,” Drazan said. “I think the biggest thing is just being proud of what I’ve accomplished and nice to hear it back from the community sometime, too.”
And working in the community is something that she does frequently, as evidenced by her receipt of the team’s Ridder Award in 2008, given to the player who is most involved in the community.
“She’s so determined and has a lot of goals, and likes to keep herself well-rounded along with all of her goals on ice,” classmate Dagney Willey said.
“If I take the next year off for the Olympics I will finish my masters in early childhood and early childhood special education the year after that,” Drazan said. “And hopefully be getting a job teaching anything under second grade is my preference.”
A fine choice, given her many talents.
“She can tell stories like it is her job,” Gigi Marvin said.
Everyone knows children like to hear stories. Given her experiences, Rachael Drazan has many a story to tell.
It is inspiring to watch the transformation of the young women who pass through the Gopher program. Certainly, they develop on the ice, but even more so off of it.
“I said from day one I came in as a freshman as probably one of the biggest hotheads this program has ever seen,” co-captain Melanie Gagnon said. “By that, I’m just really critical on myself, and I’ve always been that way.”
From that self-proclaimed hothead, she has grown into someone others look to for leadership.
“I do have the responsibility of being the liaison between the coaches and the players,” Gagnon said. “I do pride myself on doing that role to my best.”
“When we go through hard times like the first season loss to Robert Morris or loss to Wisconsin, I feel that I’m a very confident person and everyone knows I’m a very blunt person. I’ll say it how I see it, and if people don’t agree with it, that’s fine. There are a lot of times that you have to step up, and I know that I have a lot of experience. People do respect that, which is nice, when I do have to step up and be the bad guy or the bearer of bad news.”
A similar growth has been in evidence in her play on the ice with Gagnon being named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year.
“I think it’s just growing up, maturity,” she said. “Technically, I should have graduated last year; I took a year off high school. I think that extra year kind of calmed me down quite a bit. I learned how to talk to myself; I learned how to do imagery. I’ve known it all along, but I didn’t believe it. I think this year I really took it to heart, and I think that’s why my consistency is definitely spot on compared to previous years.”
Watch Gagnon in action for any period of time on the Gopher blue line and one thing that stands out is her quick feet. If her stick is tied up, she’ll slide a skate along the boards to hold the puck in at the point. When necessary, she’ll kick the puck out to clear her zone.
“I was a soccer player growing up, so I don’t know if that contributes to it, or if I’m clumsy and I lose my stick a lot so I’ve learned how to adapt,” she said. “I used to be a soccer player, and actually a softball player, so I guess maybe that’s where the reflexes come from.”
Obviously, she is able to laugh at herself – and at others. Kim Hanlon describes her as a “smart aleck”.
“She’s definitely one of those guys that when you’re down in the dumps, she’ll just kind of catch you with a one-liner or something that’ll make you laugh,” Hanlon said.
At least they are good one-liners; Gigi Marvin says Gagnon is “hilarious”.
But there’s a more serious side to her as well, as evidenced by Rachael Drazan’s description of “competitive and willing to take the extra step for her teammates.”
The whole team has collectively taken some extra steps, advancing to the Frozen Four for the first time since Gagnon’s rookie season.
“We’re never satisfied; don’t count us out,” she said. “If anything, [winning the WCHA title] did fuel the fire to keep going and for us to realize that we do have a great team and that we can be there.”
It is symbiotic for Gagnon and her teammates that Minnesota’s season has been extended to collegiate hockey’s ultimate weekend, maximizing the time that they can spend together.
“She likes to be around the team and has got a good spirit, a good sense of humor, and she’s fun to be around,” Dagney Willey said.
“I can look across the room at all 22 players and we each have a special bond, whether it was a funny story or she made a nice prank on me, things like that,” Gagnon said. “I think it’s just fun to go through every player that’s been here in the last four years and know that I’ve made a friend in each and every one of them.”
Though her time as a Gopher is winding down, her days at the University of Minnesota may not be.
“Currently, I’m applying to pharmacy school for next fall. If I do get in, I won’t have much time for much else. So that’s kind of where my future is leading me. Until I hear the good news, my future really is up in the air.”
Has anyone in Gopher history lived a story with as many plot twists as Kim Hanlon?
“It’s kind of like living at Valley Fair and you’re stuck on the Wild Thing over and over again, just up and down and around and back flips and everything,” Hanlon said. “Overall, it’s been a pretty good career, I would say. It’s been a lot of fun; I’ve had a lot of great teammates.”
She arrived at Minnesota as a supposed career backup to a franchise goaltender in Brittony Chartier. By the end of her first regular season, Hanlon had established herself as the number one goaltender and been named the WCHA’s goaltending champion, only to have her season come to an abrupt end when she suffered an ankle injury in the conference championship game. The injury delayed the start of her second season and plagued her when she did return, playing on a full-time basis once Chartier left the program.
“I’ve always given a 110 percent, and sometimes you’re not at your best because of certain limitations,” Hanlon said. “You just learn how to work hard and how to persevere – to just never give up.”
After a year where she shared playing time with Jenny Lura on a roughly equal basis, Alyssa Grogan arrived and Hanlon found herself the odd one out in a crowded goalie rotation.
“[Kim is] the hardest worker I know,” Rachael Drazan said. “Just always going that extra mile, always doing what’s right for the team, and always putting herself second.”
That team-first attitude was on display as Hanlon persevered despite limited opportunities on the ice.
“Kim is one of the most inspirational people I know,” Dagney Willey said. “She just never quits. She does that extra effort no matter what.”
“Obviously, we have a lot of fun memories as people too. I love being around her, she’s one of my closest friends. I’ll continue to always make contact and be close with her from here on out.”
Volatility in playing time isn’t the only obstacle that Hanlon has had to deal with as a Gopher.
“Growing up, I only had one goalie coach,” she said. “I got quite accustomed to how things worked, and how he coached. Coming here, I just assumed that I’d stick with one, and maybe have two throughout my four years, and unfortunately, I’ve had four in four years.”
“It’s been tough just trying to be tight with the goalie coach, because you’ve got to be on the same page. It takes some time to get to learn their style of coaching, the things they teach, and them learning about you. So to have to switch every year has been tough.”
This season’s goaltending coach, Megan Van Beusekom, has been limited in the amount of time she can devote to the Gophers because of other commitments, notably to the US Selects residency program. As the veteran goaltender in a trio that includes a sophomore and a frosh, Hanlon has tried to help the team indirectly as another source of coaching.
“I try to help coach the goalies, the forwards, the D,” she said. “Just try and let them know what I see and what I think might work better. ‘Hey, try this,’ or ‘You are not doing this.’ It helped made me realize how much I can benefit just from continuing to do that, and hopefully coaching down the road.”
Though her days as a college hockey player are winding down, Hanlon doesn’t expect to be done with either college or hockey soon.
“I’ll probably continue in school; get a graduate’s degree in something,” she said. “I definitely want to coach, whether it be head coach or just doing some goalie coaching. I’ll try and get hooked up with some camps and stuff; start my own little personal business.”
Hanlon has the right traits to succeed both as a coach and a businesswoman, judging by what teammates say about her.
“She is I think the most levelheaded person I’ve ever met in this program,” Melanie Gagnon said. “She’s a really good friend that listens, so she’s always been there.”
Gigi Marvin added, “She’s pretty quiet, but when you open her up, she’s so fun. She’s a good person, and she laughs a lot and it is fun to see her smile.”
In addition to losing the 2009 seniors next season, Minnesota figures to be deprived of many of the fans that have populated Section 11 for the last four years
“I grew up in a huge family, so no matter if I had a Little League game, softball game, cross country match, my family was always there,” Gigi Marvin said. “I feel fortunate to have so many members. And they love hockey, they love supporting other family members, and they come see me every single game.”
Sometimes, Marvin’s cheering section even becomes a part of the entertainment.
“It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of the posters that they make, the girls [on the team] love,” Marvin said. “They get excited when they see a poster, they’re like, ‘I finally made the poster!’”
As the opportunity to watch Gigi play at the “U” ends, new viewing opportunities emerge for the Marvin clan. Her cousins Layla and Lisa competed for Warroad High School in the Minnesota Class A State Hockey Tournament, finishing as the runner up.
Marvin, among the fans cheering them on at the Xcel Energy Center, told her cousins to “be thankful that you made it. Not many people have a second place medal.”
While she may not have one from the state high school tournament, Gigi bettered that with a gold medal as a member of Team USA at the IIHF World Championships in 2008. The experience gained in international competition can be applied to postseason competition in college.
“I think it is just taking it one game at a time,” Marvin said. “For the national team, we’re with the team for three weeks, but for the first week it is just straight training. The second week is all preliminary games, then all of sudden – bam – you’re in the semis and gold-medal game.”
The Gophers have now reached the point where their season goes “bam”, and just two wins stand between them and the championship that they covet. These are the times when a team needs stars to shine as Marvin did in scoring two quick goals to key the NCAA quarterfinal win over Boston College. She knows that as stellar as her career at Minnesota has been, these are the games that define great players.
“I know the potential that I have,” Marvin said. “There is some game in there that I haven’t touched yet, and it’s going to be fun to see when it all comes out and is unleashed.”
That’s likely to happen at some point, given the comments of Rachael Drazan, her teammate on both the Gophers and Team USA, who finds her to be “extremely passionate about the game and hardworking”. Dagney Willey witnesses Marvin’s hockey passion as well.
“I don’t know if I know anybody who loves hockey as much as she does,” Willey said. “That’s pretty amazing how she just bleeds maroon and gold, bleeds hockey, and it is fun to see.”
Given that, it won’t be easy for Marvin to leave the game she loves behind.
“It would be tough for me to be done with hockey,” she said. “I’m the type of person that was born with it. I’ll probably be playing hockey for the rest of my life. It’s something that never gets old to me. If the Olympics are in my future, I can’t say I’ll be retiring any time soon.”
As serious as she is about the game, Melanie Gagnon and Kim Hanlon agree that Marvin is the team’s biggest prankster.
“She likes to pull off some good ones,” Hanlon said. “She’ll try to make you think that it wasn’t her, but we always point the finger at her.”
“I went to school to be a mass communications major,” Marvin said. “I would love to be a sideline reporter, or anything on camera involving sports. Now I can flip it around and maybe be the one asking the questions. I’ve had a lot of experience, and that would be a fun career path, I think.”
To say that Dagney Willey’s final season in maroon & gold got off to a rough start would be putting it mildly. Her team lost its opening game at home to Robert Morris in one of the most surprising upsets in team history. Willey was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury that kept her out of the following five contests as well.
“Unfortunately my senior year, yeah I got hurt, but it was the first game of the season versus the last game,” she said. “It was a little more positive getting that out of the system early on, so that you could grow, get better, and deal with it early on so it doesn’t necessarily effect it as much.”
Another challenge Willey has had to meet as a Gopher has been changes to the staff, playing for two different head coaches and no fewer than six full-time assistants in her four seasons.
“It’s fun – you get to meet different people, get different outlooks on the game,” she said. “It’s fun getting different people in and out, but at the same time, you have to go through adjustments each year.”
The variety of coaches almost seems fitting for Willey, who must be one of the most diverse individuals to ever wear the “M”. Her talents span a broad spectrum: All-Academic scholar, Big Sister, competitive boxer, singer – and it seems there is always at least one more addition to the list.
“She is the best baker I’ve ever met,” Gigi Marvin said, giving further witness to the variety of Willey’s skill set.
“We spent our first two years living together, and she was just a ball of fun,” Kim Hanlon said. “We’d always come up with something interesting to do. She’s a very great friend.”
The problem for Willey isn’t finding interesting past times; it is keeping them to a reasonable number.
“It definitely is hard, because I want to reach out as much as I can,” she said. “I know that there are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, but so far I have been able to balance myself and limit some of the things that I want to do and focus on certain programs that I want to work with. But at the same time, I still want to keep doing other things, and experiencing other things, and helping other people.”
A common thread running through many of her activities is the assistance she gives to others.
“Dagney is very passionate about the game and the community, but most often giving her hand out to others and being a true friend,” Rachael Drazan said.
In the future, she may follow her brother into the coaching ranks.
“Last summer I coached kids from 7 to 18, and I like the youth circuit coaching right now,” Willey said. “I think it is a little bit more fun, as far as you see the bigger margins of improvement. It’s just fun being around kids; it’s all about fun, and it’s not necessarily the focus on winning, it’s just about improvement and being around your friends.”
Being around her own friends is what Willey will remember most about her Gopher experience.
“We’ve got lots of memories, off the ice, hanging out together,” she said. “So many that you can’t even name them, but just those little things that you’re going to remember, and when you get back together you’re going to talk about and laugh about. Those are the ones you take away more than the games.”