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Playing with Grace

10/29/2022, 2:30pm CDT
By Bryan Zollman

Grace Zumwinkle played three sports growing up. She is a current captain for the Gophers and a former Ms. Hockey winner.

Zumwinkle encourages multi-sport play

Grace Zumwinkle remembers crying in her bed the night before her first hockey practice. She was in kindergarten, but a boy she liked played hockey, so she wanted to try it. But it was scary.

Just over a decade later she was winner of the Ms. Hockey Award and recently notched her 150th career point for the Gophers, a team she is serving as the captain.

Needless to say she fell in love with the game of hockey, but Zumwinkle also fell in love with golf and tennis, and said those sports have helped her become the hockey player she is today.

We connected with Zumwinkle recently, and here is what she had to say.


Q: Tell us about your experience growing up playing hockey in the State of Hockey. When did you first fall in love with the game?

A: It is a funny story of how I started playing hockey. At the time my kindergarten class crush came to school with a flyer that he was going to start playing hockey. I wanted to do everything he did, so I brought the flyer home to my parents and asked them to sign me up. Unlike every other kid that was starting hockey no one in my family previously played or had any ties to the sport. My parents signed me up and then proceeded to go to the local sporting goods store and purchase the $150 starter kit. The night before the first practice I sat crying in my bed telling my parents I didn’t want to go anymore, but they forced me to go because they had spent all the money and signed me up. I showed up to the first day of hockey and had never skated before and was getting skated circles around. Despite the lack of expertise or experience I got off the ice after the practice and looked at both of my parents with a huge smile, and said I was the best one out there. They didn’t want to shatter my confidence at a young age, so they just went along with it. Ever since that moment I have enjoyed everything that hockey has provided me. I have learned so many life lessons about resilience, teamwork, and hard work just to name a few. Throughout the last 18 years of playing hockey, I have been blessed with so many great teammates and coaches that make coming to the rink every day a challenge but also provide so much joy in my life. 


Q: So many hockey families choose to specialize. Why did you decide not to specialize in hockey and how did you balance three sports?

A: Ever since I was a little kid my parents signed me up for every sport you could think of until we found the one(s) we truly loved. My parents both played college sports, so being active was never a question. Growing up playing multiple sports was the only thing I knew. My family grew up playing tennis and golf together, which is where I found a love for those other two sports. I still had the mindset that if I can make it work with hockey, and still have fun while playing I might as well keep playing the other sports I love, because there will be a time that I will have to focus on just one. The balance was sometimes tough running from tennis to hockey, but hockey was alway in the forefront for me. 




Q: What benefited you from being a 3-sport athlete?

A: Being able to play 3 sports in high school is very uncommon these days. I was fortunate to have coaches that were understanding of my hockey commitments, and allowed me to prioritize hockey but still be involved with the team. Playing tennis and golf in high school taught me so much about competitive sports, and how to be a better athlete and teammate in general. There are so many things from tennis and golf like agility, or resilience that sometimes you don’t get to learn through hockey. 


Q: Who have been some of your mentors along the way on your hockey journey?

A: I have been fortunate to have so many great coaches and mentors throughout my hockey career. The names that come to the top of mind for me are Winny Brodt-Brown, Ronda Curtin, Bethany Brausen, Brad Frost, Joel Johnson, and Natalie Darwitz. They have all devoted so much into me as a player and person, and am so thankful for everything they have done to support me. I am so lucky to have so many great mentors that have supported me ever since I was young to present day. Additionally, many skills coaches that I have worked with including Scott Bjugstad, Lance Pitlick, PJ Atherton, Troy Stevens, and Karn Skating. 


Q: Describe your experience playing for the Gophers and what that has meant to you.

A: Growing up in the state of Minnesota it was always a lifelong goal of mine to play for the Golden Gophers someday. Going to watch the games at a young age always inspired me that I one day could hopefully be playing at Ridder Arena. The last 4 years playing for the Gophers have been everything that I have dreamed of. I feel like I have grown so much as a player and person, and I attribute a lot of that to the team, coaches, staff, and culture that the University and program provides. 


Q: You were fortunate to play in the Elite League in high school. How did that help your development?

The elite league is an awesome opportunity for girls across the state to come together and play with and against the other best players. I think it’s a mix of fun and competitiveness as most people get ready for their high school seasons. It’s fun to be able to play against other Club teams from around the country. With the elite league you know you can always count on a competitive game regardless of who the opponent is. 


Q: Why do you think the Elite League is something players should get involved in?

I think the elite league is something that players should get involved in for a multitude of different reasons. First and foremost, you get to play against many of the best players and teams from around the country. Second, it’s a good vehicle to get recruited and noticed by college coaches, and lastly, it offers competitive games leading up to the Minnesota high school season. 


Q: What is your favorite Elite League memory?

My favorite memory from the Elite League was qualifying and playing in the National Tournament, which was held in Blaine, MN that year. 


Q: Describe what it is like pulling on a Team USA jersey and playing with the best of the best.

Putting on the Team USA jersey is always a special opportunity, and one that I never take for granted. When playing for your country you represent something much larger than yourself, which is something I continuously try to remind myself of. It is always an honor to wear the red, white, and blue and play with and alongside many of the players that I have looked up to for so long. There are many quality people in the program, and I am fortunate to be associated with it. 


Q: What are your future goals in hockey?

I would like to continue to play with Team USA, and hopefully participate in the next Olympic games. I would also like to continue to play in some professional capacity. 


Q: Why would you recommend others play other sports and not focus on just hockey for 12 months. 

A: My advice would be to play other sports as long as you can. Other sports can teach you so many life lessons, and it’s honestly nice to stay active and do something you’re passionate about while taking your mind off of hockey. Tennis and golf are still hobbies that I like to play with my time outside of hockey. 


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Tag(s): State Of Hockey