When Dani Cameranesi was playing in the Wayzata Youth Hockey Association growing up, she didn’t notice a lot of attention being paid toward girls’ and women’s hockey. After all, she was playing on the boys’ team herself, so naturally she’d attend their high school, college and professional hockey games as well.
That trend and culture has changed.
“When I was younger, it was always about going to the boys’ games,” said Cameranesi. “But now, just looking up in the stands and seeing a bunch of young girls or high school girls, the excitement and interest women’s hockey has gone way up. I think a lot of that has to do with Gopher women’s hockey.”
The buzz created from two straight NCAA National Championships and a record-breaking unbeaten streak has enamored hockey fans and casual observers alike. At a very important time in girls’ and women’s hockey, the Gophers may prove to be the perfect spark plug to grow the game.
This year’s freshmen class at the University of Minnesota represents that growth locally, in both numbers and skill level. The success of Minnesota Hockey’s community-based model is clearly evident to head coach Brad Frost.
“It’s a great model. It’s proven to have success over an extended period of time here now,” said Frost. “I think the opportunity to play for your city and eventually for your high school and have that pride in going to state tournaments is critical to the success of Minnesota Hockey.”
The Gopher women’s program has always had a Minnesota flavor to it, but six of the seven freshmen in this year’s class have been starring in the State of Hockey for years now.
That kind of local talent pool makes Frost’s job a little easier.
“The stronger the state is in girls’ hockey, the better off it is for us,” said Frost. “We want to keep the best players in-state. We were pretty fortunate with the six that we got from Minnesota this year.”
Here’s a look at the local Gopher rookies.
Wayzata Youth Hockey Association
Registered 57 goals and 38 assists for 95 points as a senior at Blake. Cameranesi was teammates with current Badger Grant Besse all the way up through Peewees in Wayzata. She was named 2013 Ms. Hockey, and he was named 2013 Mr. Hockey. Dani’s brother, Tony, is currently a sophomore standout for Minnesota-Duluth.
Proudest Hockey Moment:
“Winning the state championship last year for my coach Brano (Stankovsky), who died the year before.”
On Minnesota Hockey: “The skill level is definitely getting better and young girls are getting more excited. It’s fun to be a part of that here.”
Bloomington Jefferson Youth Hockey Association
Scored 22 goals and 43 points as a senior for Bloomington Jefferson. Earned all-conference honors
Proudest Hockey Moment: “At our banquet last year, our high school coach told everyone that me and one of my good friends helped bring the Bloomington Jefferson program up. We did pretty well our senior year and we were proud of that.”
On Minnesota Hockey: “When girls from out of state talk about playing with their club teams. I’m just like, ‘That stinks.’ We get to play with the same girls all the way up. They become just like family to you.”
Roseville Area High School (Moved to Minnesota in eighth grade)
Scored 32 goals and 25 assists for 57 points as a senior. Was selected as a 2013 Ms. Hockey Award finalist. Played on two IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championships with the U.S.
Proudest Hockey Moment: “Winning the state title when I was a freshman at Roseville. Lee Stecklein and Bethany Brausen were both on that team as well.”
On Minnesota Hockey: “I loved growing up in Wisconsin, but when it came to hockey, moving to the Twin Cities was a much better chance for me to develop and get better overall. It’s definitely different here. There were so many more opportunities when I came here.”
Red Wing Amateur Hockey Association
Scored 103 goals and 159 assists for 262 career points at Red Wing. Named a 2013 Ms. Hockey Award finalist and earned all-state honors four times. Also lettered in cross-country, soccer and track and field in high school.
Proudest Hockey Moment:
“Making it to state with Red Wing for four years and also being a finalist for the Ms. Hockey Award.”
On Minnesota Hockey: “Hockey’s a big deal in Red Wing. We were the best team around and we got great crowds my junior and senior year. It was just a really fun atmosphere and it’s just getting better and better. It’s more competitive and there are a lot more girls playing hockey now for sure.”
North Metro Youth Hockey Association
Helped lead Breck to three straight state tournaments, including the 2012 state championship. Named best forward and MVP of the 2013 IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championships. Also lettered in softball and soccer.
Proudest Hockey Moment: “Winning state as a junior at Breck with Milica McMillen.”
On Minnesota Hockey: “If you look at other states, they have to travel really far. They have to play for club teams where they’re driving hours just to practice. In Minnesota, you can grow up and play with your friends that you go to school with. It’s so much more fun and such a better experience. Growing up and driving five minutes to the rink is honestly the best thing.”
Eagan Hockey Association
Scored 223 career points at Eagan, including 70 her junior year and 71 her senior season. Played in the IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championships with the U.S. Under-18 team. Also lettered in golf.
Proudest Hockey Moment: “When I made the U.S. Women’s National U-18 team and went to Finland.”
On Minnesota Hockey: “More girls are starting to play hockey, so there are a lot more teams for girls and more opportunities. You won’t get that anywhere else. This is the place to be.”
The impact of the Gopher program’s incredible run the past two-plus years has shown immediate effects on girls’ and women’s hockey locally.
Haley’s father, Scott, called her up in early November. Red Wing held tryouts this season for the first time ever.
“It’s happening even in a small town like Red Wing,” she said. “In little Red Wing, we never tried out. We always knew who our team was.”
Hopefully the long-term impact is just as strong.