BLAINE, Minn. — Former Minnesota Gopher Grace Zumwinkle is very familiar with the ice at the Schwan's Super Rink in Blaine.
“I remember coming to this rink as a kid and playing in tournaments here,” said Zumwinkle.
She is one of 27 women, who will be part of the United States Women's national hockey team’s residency program – which began Tuesday in Blaine. For the next four months, they’ll call this rink home as they battle for a spot on the 2022 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
“You’re gonna be working your hardest, you want to make the team but you want to win a gold medal," says 2018 Olympian Lee Stecklein. "That just has to kind of stay the focus.”
Fourteen of the women have tasted Olympic gold already in 2018. But that doesn’t mean they take the grind of the next four months any more easily.
“Winning the gold medal was an amazing experience, and I think that makes you want it even more now," says 2018 Olympian Hannah Brandt.
And the man chosen to guide them there, Joel Johnson – a long time assistant coach at the University of Minnesota and now the head coach at St. Thomas – is grateful for the opportunity.
“People might jump, (but) a lot of time when they say, 'Do you think you deserve this?' No one deserves this. It’s just an honor,” says Joel Johnson.
And for at least six of the players, to be a teammate and tour guide in their home state adds to the fun.
"Just trying to explain, 'Yeah we’re not crazy,'" Stecklein with a laugh. "It’s a great place!"
"I actually don’t think anyone from Minnesota has moved out of Minnesota on this team," says Kelly Pannek. "So we’re proud of this place and to show them what it’s like.”