LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Winny Brodt-Brown needs no reminder of why she loves hockey, but she had two in the last two days.
The Minnesota defender and captain, mother of two boys and the oldest player (42) in the NWHL, scored the winning goal against Boston on Saturday. Then she celebrated her team’s four-goal comeback in a 6-5 shootout win over Toronto on Sunday.
“It’s up there,” she said of the significance of the win, one of nine possible games the Whitecaps will play over this two-week NWHL season, should they make the Isobel Cup Final for the third straight year. “We were focusing on one shift at a time, one period at a time, and just chip away, right?”
She’s been doing that since 1991, when she participated in the USA women’s national team camp as a 13-year-old — and back then in women’s hockey, there was checking. She was cut from three Olympic teams, missing out in 1998, 2002 and 2006. She keeps coming back.
“That’s as tough as it gets,” Ben Smith, the coach of those teams, said after the 2006 Turin roster was announced. “Talk about resilient. I’ve probably had to cut her more times than any player I’ve been around.”
Every shift, earned.
The resilience comes from her mother, Marlene, who is 74 and still playing for senior national championships. It comes from her father, Jack, who now coaches her on the Whitecaps, along with her 37-year-old sister, Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal. Jack put Winny on boys’ teams, when she was growing up in Twin Cities suburb of Roseville, Minn. She wanted to play, and he had no other choice.
There were no girls’ hockey teams in the 1980s. College scholarships were a dream. The Olympics didn’t sign up for women’s hockey until 1998. So a girl with a ponytail had to skate for her life against the boys.
“Obviously I was not big, ever,” said Brodt-Brown, today listed at 5 feet 4 inches. She played defense because her figure skating training gave her a confident backward stride. “I had no idea I was the smallest one. I was just looking for the puck. Guys are trying to destroy me every game. For 12 to 14 years, hockey was about survival. Now it’s just fun.”
As a senior at Roseville High in 1996, she was named the first Minnesota Ms. Hockey. She played college hockey at New Hampshire and Minnesota, winning national titles at both (in the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance, before the NCAA recognized women’s hockey in 2000).
Brodt-Brown shook off those Olympic cuts, and kept blazing her path.
In 2004, while working part-time jobs, as a sales rep for a hockey company and fitness instructor, and training with the national team, she started Os Hockey Training. Her pupils numbered 50 in the first year. She now has more than 2,000. Several of her Whitecaps teammates teach there.
Hoping to give his daughters a competitive team, Jack Brodt in 2004 formed the Whitecaps, joining the now-defunct Western Women’s Hockey League. They went independent when that league folded in 2011, then joined the NWHL in 2018. During the WWHL days, Brown would drive her teammates in a minivan to games in Toronto, Winnipeg and Regina, Saskatoon. They would pay for flights to Calgary.
During weekend events in Roseville, the local youth hockey association would pay for the ice, in exchange for the women leading clinics. USA Hockey would provide referees. Ticket sales went to the association. Brodt-Brown estimated she would spend a few thousand dollars out of pocket annually.
“These girls now don’t understand what we all did to make it work,” she said. “We’re running clinics, buying gear, paying for gas money, hotels, food, everything. But I’ll tell you — all our road trips were a heck of a time.
“Now our flights are paid for. We’re put up in hotels. We get our own rooms. We would put four to a room just to save money, just for the opportunity to play. People have to see how far it’s come, and not what we don’t have.”
It is a fact that none of the Team USA players that won the 2018 Olympic gold are playing in Lake Placid. Those players, including Brown’s original Os pupils Hannah Brandt and Lee Stecklein, train with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, the barnstorming group of about 125 that formed after the March 2019 dissolution of the CWHL. The PWHPA states that no women’s pro league exists that “consistently showcases the best product of women’s hockey in the world, pays its players a living wage and has the infrastructure to set the game up to succeed.”
Brodt-Brown admires the passion of those players, many of whom she knows personally. But she notes that even in the NHL, players had day jobs into the 1980s, and flew commercial into the 1990s.
“It’s baby steps, right?” she said. “You don’t move mountains in days. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Let’s put the best product we can out there.”
That means, in her view, working together. The ongoing NWHL-PWHPA rift is the elephant in the rink this week. The former is proud of what it has built, while the latter is convinced it’s not good enough. Casual fans tuning in this week may wonder why the players they watched at the Olympics, and at the NHL All-Star Game in 2020, are not playing for the Isobel Cup. It defies straightforward explanation.
“That confusion is the No. 1 thing that doesn’t help,” Brodt-Brown said. “We have to stop the confusion and be one and move forward together. That’s the only way women’s hockey will grow. There’s no wrong side. Everyone wants to support us. Give them something to support, without confusion, and it will grow.”