WASHINGTON — The University of Minnesota’s women’s hockey team finished last season 41-0-0 en route to its second consecutive NCAA title.
The Gophers’ 2012-13 team had a storybook ending to its perfect season Monday when it traveled to the nation’s capital to meet President Barack Obama.
“He made it so obvious when we were all there that he really genuinely was happy that we were all there,” senior captain Bethany Brausen said, “and I think that was the most special thing to us.”
The Gophers were one of 19 national championship-winning Division I teams honored on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday.
Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said he found out about the opportunity last Wednesday. His team heard the news the next day, before a crucial weekend in the WCHA Final Face-Off in Bemidji.
The Gophers returned home from Bemidji early Sunday morning and hopped on a plane just a few hours later. “We were just going one thing to the next, but I don’t think anyone would have wanted it any other way,” Brausen said.
The Gophers spent most of Sunday sightseeing.
Minnesota senior forward Kelly Terry was one of many visiting the nation’s capital for the first time.
“That history and all of the monuments and everything that we got to experience really Americanized me, being from Canada and everything,” Terry said. “It was really special to experience that.”
On Monday, the team met Sen. Amy Klobuchar, took a tour of the U.S. Capitol and spoke with President Obama.
Frost was an assistant coach in 2004 and 2005 when the Gophers won NCAA titles. Both of those teams went to the White House as well.
Frost went once, and he said the trip was in-and-out. He wanted this time to be different.
“There really wasn’t an opportunity to sightsee or anything like that, so that’s why we chose to go out on Sunday,” Frost said.
Brausen said Frost tried to keep the team’s expectations low.
“[He said] you will probably take a couple pictures … but don’t be expecting stories and handshakes,” she said.
The Gophers’ experience turned out to be the exact opposite.
“[President Obama] kind of took away our nerves a little bit because he was so relaxed,” sophomore forward Hannah Brandt said.
Brausen said Obama shared some stories with the team and then introduced himself to each
Terry called the experience “surreal.”
“I got to say, ‘Hi, my name’s Kelly Terry.’ And he got to reply and say, ‘Hi Kelly. It’s nice to meet you,’” Terry said. “And to hear that is an insane thing. I just didn’t think that would ever happen.”
As is tradition, the Gophers brought a jersey with “Obama” stitched on the back.
After meeting with each team, President Obama honored all the student-athletes in a brief ceremony on a crisp day in Washington. He jokingly called out a student-athlete for taking a selfie at the beginning of his speech, and then he spoke for about seven minutes.
President Obama gave the Gophers a special shout-out early in his speech, mentioning that members of the team competed for the U.S. in Sochi, Russia, which elicited a cheer from the crowd.
Megan Bozek, a defenseman who graduated after last season, and defenseman Lee Stecklein were in attendance. Both competed for Team USA.
Near the end of his speech, Obama mentioned that he was proud of all the female athletes.
“There was a time when college women’s athletics was relegated to second status. And all of you here are showing the incredible strides that we’ve made over the last couple of decades,” Obama said. “And it means that Malia and Sasha and my nieces — they all know how important athletics is in their lives. And you guys have really paved the way.”
That part, in particular, resonated with the team.
“You hear it all the time that we’re role models for younger athletes or young girl hockey players, but to hear it directly from the president of the United States … is quite an honor,” Terry said.
Now, the Gophers will head back to Minnesota with hopes of a third consecutive title, which could earn them another trip back to Washington.
“We know that it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so if we could somehow do it again and manage to get the invite back, it would be something really special,” Terry said. “I think that our current freshmen could look at what we did and maybe make that a goal for themselves.”