MINNEAPOLIS — With the team's first preseason exhibition game against the University of Minnesota women's hockey team just days away on Friday, Minnesota Whitecaps head coach Ronda Engelhardt is preparing the Whitecaps for the Gophers and the upcoming PHF regular season. However, the Roseville, Minn. native is also getting ready to take on a new challenge - scouting for the NHL.
Engelhardt is entering her fourth season at the helm of the Whitecaps and is seeking the team's second Isobel Cup after the Whitecaps won the league title during their first year as part of the National Women's Hockey League, which later rebranded to the Premier Hockey Federation, in 2018.
Earlier this month, the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators announced they hired Engelhardt as the team's first-ever female scout. On Tuesday, Engelhardt spoke with KARE 11 about how she is balancing the responsibilities of leading the Whitecaps while working as a North American Amateur Scout for the Predators.
"It's just been fun so far, getting to know how it all works and just having been part of the process," she said.
The long process of getting hired as an NHL scout started when the Nashville Predators reached out to her about becoming the team's first-ever female scout, Engelhardt said, and the Minnesota Whitecaps have been supportive of her new role in the NHL.
"Thankfully, the Whitecaps have been very supportive of that and my time because talking with the general manager for Nashville, he had mentioned he wanted me to have a seat at the table, which requires me being at a few meetings outside of Minnesota," she explained.
Engelhardt added that she will attend several meetings with the Predators leading up to the NHL Draft but will be able to work around her coaching duties. For Nashville, she will be attending high school and college games in Minnesota, writing reports on prospects and helping evaluate what players the team wants to draft.
"Nashville's got a great group of people," she said. "They've been actually very great, very arms wide open, all of them reaching out, [I] feel respected."
For her future career in the NHL, Engelhardt explained that Nashville asked her about that during their meeting in North Carolina earlier this month and that "it's hard to say at this point."
"This year, I think I'm just keeping everything open and see where things lead, you never know," she said. "I wouldn't have guessed a year ago that I'd be working in the NHL today."
However, Engelhardt won't be the only one from the Whitecaps to make the leap to scouting in the NHL. Defender Sidney Morin, a Minnetonka native, was also hired as a scout by the Carolina Hurricanes. While both Minnesotans will scout the Land of 10,000 Lakes, they will be scouting different groups of players. Engelhardt explained that Morin will scout professional players and they will both scout part-time.
Englehardt doesn't anticipate her new role with the Predators will negatively impact the Whitecaps and said that it will give her more value and chances to learn more hockey. She does recognize that balancing two jobs in two different professional hockey leagues is a challenge, saying, "Yeah, it's gonna be difficult."
Before becoming a coach for the Whitecaps, Engelhardt was the women's hockey head coach at the Breck School in Golden Valley from 2013-2018 and was an assistant coach for the University of St. Thomas women's hockey team from 2003 to 2007.
The Minnesota Whitecaps will take on the University of Minnesota Gophers in an exhibition game on Friday, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. at Ridder Arena. Admission to the game is free. The game will be a "tone-setter" for both teams, but it is also a homecoming of sorts for some players.
Heading into Friday's exhibition game, there has been "a whole new energy this year," Engelhardt explained. With a month gap between the exhibition game and the start of the PHF's regular season, playing the Gophers, which is coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and a WCHA regular-season conference championship, will be a major test for the team.
"Coaching against them, it's gonna be a hard task based on us coming in with a couple of practices and a whole new team and trying to figure out even what our lines are," she explained. "But it'll be good because it's high paced and I know they'll be excited to just get a game."
The Roseville native played forward for the Gophers from 1999 to 2003 and was a team captain during her junior and senior seasons. She was also a part of the Gophers' first-ever national championship team in 2000. However, when she last played collegiately at Ridder Arena, the country's first women's hockey-specific facility still had the new-car smell to it after it opened in 2002.
Engelhardt explained that going back to Ridder Arena won't be too unusual since she works independently with the team as a life coach. "You always want your alma mater to continue to be successful and do what you can to help in that," she explained.
The Whitecaps' regular season starts on the road on Nov. 5 with a trip to Canada to take on the Toronto Six.
"The list goes on and on" of players to keep an eye out for, according to Engelhardt, with returning stars like goalie Amanda Leveille, rookies coming out of college like former Gopher captain Olivia Knowles and players coming from Europe, including Olympian Denisa Křížová from Horní Cerekev, Czechia.
Minnesota's first home game at their new home at Richfield Ice Arena is set for a unique Friday night matchup on Nov. 18 against the Boston Pride with puck drop at 7 p.m. CT. For the Whitecaps' complete 2022-2023 regular-season schedule, click or tap here.
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