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Champions: Minnesota Whitecaps back in the limelight

The Whitecaps enjoyed a triumphant return after years on the fringe of the women’s game.
TeMo Photo at temophoto.com

TeMo Photo at temophoto.com

There’s a moment from the 2018-19 NWHL season that stands out to Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal, but it’s not the one you might think. It’s not when she held the Isobel Cup high over her head, not the moment she and her Minnesota Whitecaps teammates celebrated a storybook run from expansion team to champions in their inaugural campaign, and not skating alongside her older sister, captain Winny Brodt-Brown, in a professional women’s league.

Instead, it’s the moment the 35-year-old first touched the ice this season, when she stepped out in front of the 1,200-plus fans inside TRIA Rink in St. Paul, Minn., and realized that after several years with an independent outfit, she was finally back playing at the level she had dreamed of since leaving the University of Minnesota. “Having that same thing, where we’re in a league again and playing for something, was spectacular to be able to do and something I thought was possible I’d never do again,” Brodt-Rosenthal said. “Being in the NWHL gave me an opportunity to do that.”

Better yet, the opportunity came with the same Whitecaps organization that is steeped in so much family history.

It was 15 years ago, June 2004, that the team was founded by Dwayne Schmidgall and Jack Brodt, Chelsey’s father. The intention was to provide a place for post-college athletes to continue to compete at an elite level, which the Brodt family patriarch said will always be the goal of the program.

In the time since its formation, the Whitecaps’ banner has grown to include a development team and offshoot training programs, and with that the Brodt name has become embedded into the fabric of women’s and girls’ hockey in the state. So much so, in fact, that it could be said the Whitecaps’ Isobel Cup win took its roots well before the modern NWHL was established. “I would say at least seven, eight or 10 of the players (who) were on the team went through the Jr. Whitecaps program,” Jack Brodt said. “Jonna Curtis is one, (Amy) Schlagel is one, (Hannah) Brandt, (Lee) Stecklein…I think about 80 percent of our roster was Minnesota-bred players, probably 50 to 60 percent of those players have been in our youth organizations.”

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the program. There were lean years, seasons when players needed sponsorships reaching into the thousand-dollar range in order to travel during those early campaigns in the Western Women’s League.

There was also a brief foray and later a contentious exit from the CWHL – though not before the Whitecaps became the only American team to etch their name onto the Clarkson Cup. That was followed by the independent years, during which Brodt and Co. were tasked with finding games against prep schools, college teams or anyone willing to square off against the Whitecaps. “We’ve kind of just been holding on the past six or seven years,” Brodt said.

It’s those trials and tribulations, though, that made not only the franchise’s entrance into the NWHL, but the Isobel Cup so meaningful to everyone involved. And it’s likely it was more meaningful to the Brodt family than anyone else. “I’ve known the history of the Whitecaps and how much work my dad has put into the program and making all of this happen,” Brodt-Rosenthal said. “It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for all of his time and effort trying to hold it all together and give us an opportunity to continue playing. It was a little extra special for me and my family.”

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