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Vikings' Rudolph, Lynx's Whalen Skated Different Paths to Shared Hockey Interest

01/18/2017, 12:15am CST
By Peter Odney
Credit: Courtesy Acowsay Cinema.

Credit: Courtesy Acowsay Cinema.

In the State of Hockey, it's not uncommon to see members of all of the local professional sports franchises at the Xcel Energy Center or even lacing up their own skates at a local pond or rink.

Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph’s interest in hockey was spurred by an unconventional coach, a team no one expected to win and an ultimate showdown final game.

No, not the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice squad, coached by Herb Brooks, which won the Gold medal against impossible odds.

Rather, the team that sparked intrigue for Rudolph was fictional - as Gordon Bombay guided the Mighty Ducks to Peewee glory against the rival Hawks in the 1992 classic starring Emilio Estevez. 

“Technically, dating back to the Mighty Ducks, watching those movies as a kid kind of showed a light on Minnesota hockey a little bit,” Rudolph explained in a recent interview.

Rudolph, who hails from Cincinnati, would get his first real taste of Minnesota pucks not long after he was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. 

“Going to my first Wild game, and seeing the State of Hockey and how passionate the fans are, not only for the Wild but for the game throughout all ages,” said Rudolph, describing his first impression of Minnesota hockey. Rudolph added that the Wild’s opponent that day was, coincidentally, the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks.

Through Rudolph’s charity work with the Masonic Children’s Hospital, he met Wild forward Jason Zucker, and the two became fast friends, according to Rudolph.

“(We connected through Zucker’s) involvement with Team Tucker Go! and all they did for Tucker (Helstrom) last year, as well as this offseason,” Rudolph explained.

Helstrom sadly passed away after a battle with cancer in July of 2016 at the age of nine years old.

Rudolph added that his neighbors have a sheet of ice in their backyard, and that he’ll try to improve on his performance in a video he used as a marketing tool in an effort to be selected for the 2017 Pro Bowl, starring Zucker as his hockey sherpa. 

“I plan on getting on the pond a little bit this offseason.”

Lindsay Whalen, she of University of Minnesota women’s basketball and the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx fame, had a far more traditional road to hockey, starting with her childhood in Hutchinson.

“In our backyard, or on the driveway, just kind of shooting a tennis ball, or shooting whatever we had at the house,” Whalen said, describing her introduction to hockey. “When I was in first grade or kindergarten, I remember in the first week barely being able to skate and having to learn all that,” Whalen said.

With very few resources for girls’ hockey at the time, Whalen bided her time as one of the few girls playing on boys’ teams, before making the switch full time to basketball.

It’s proven to be a good move for Whalen, who scored over 2,200 points while leading the Golden Gophers to the Final Four in 2004.

At the pro level, Whalen is a five-time WNBA All-Star, and a three-time WNBA champion in her time with the Lynx.

Whalen and the Lynx can draw championship parallels with the Golden Gopher women’s hockey team, which has won four of the past five NCAA national titles.

“I think it’s something unique about or city and our state that we have two really good women’s teams winning championships,” Whalen said, adding that contributing a positive and successful role model to young girls and women is something she takes pride in. “It’s cool that we’re able to provide that, and obviously we find that as a responsibility.”   

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