While using statistics to quantify a player’s value in sports is almost as old a concept as sports itself, those stats often don’t tell the full story.
In the case of Gophers forward Bethany Brausen, they don’t even scratch the surface.
Brausen has only 12 points this season, while one of her teammates has more than four times that number.
But Brausen’s value to her team goes way beyond her point total — many of the qualities she brings to the Gophers women’s hockey team are intangible.
Brausen has gone from an underclassman adapting to a new role on the ice to a two-time captain of the No. 1 team in the country.
“In a sport like hockey, there’s so much more than simply the hockey,” she said. “It’s [about] your relationships with your teammates, if you work hard, if you stay dedicated to school.
“It’s all those things, so I just try to excel at every single aspect that I can to the best of my ability.”
From Roseville to the U
Brausen remembers getting autographs from Gophers players as a child and being awestruck when they waved at her.
“It was a dream that I always had,” she said of playing at Minnesota.
So when she got the opportunity, she jumped at it.
Brausen had other college hockey options — options that might have yielded more playing time or come with an Ivy League education.
But she knew she wanted to play for the Gophers, even if that meant a different role than the one she was used to.
Brausen’s teammates at Roseville Area High School chose her as captain twice — something her coach, Vic Brodt, said was rare.
“Those players were willing to look up to her, and I think that’s a main reason that they [voted] for her,” he said.
Brodt said Brausen led primarily by example and brought a positive attitude to the rink.
Being a standout hockey player also helped.
In her senior season, she led the Raiders with 70 points and captained the team to the state championship.
That same year, she was named the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, Associated Press Player of the Year and 2010 Minnesota Ms. Hockey.
But after that high school success, Brausen didn’t see significant minutes at the collegiate level.
“It was hard for me, but you learn to really respect what a team is at that point,” she said. “You learn to really understand what a role is and how you can best help the team.”
Gophers head coach Brad Frost said he could tell it was difficult for Brausen, but he said the way she handled it in a “first-class, team-first way” told a lot about her as a person.
“She’s a person of character and one that is very competitive but is willing to be a star in her role, even though it might not be the biggest one,” he said.
In Brausen’s freshman and sophomore seasons, former Gophers forward Sarah Erickson was an assistant captain and then co-captain. Brausen said Erickson was one of the people who helped her most.
“She would talk to me and boost my confidence and tell me everything I needed to hear to go back another day and just battle and fight it out,” Brausen said.
Now, Brausen is able to fill that same role with her younger teammates.
Wearing the ‘C’
Frost said Brausen’s leadership skills were evident immediately.
“When we had her in on a visit, it was apparent then because she just kind of oozed that confidence and that leadership,” Frost said.
Her teammates saw it, too.
Brausen was voted co-captain during her junior year, something senior defenseman Baylee Gillanders said didn’t surprise her.
Brausen said being named captain of the school she dreamed of playing for brought tears to her eyes immediately.
“It was something I had never thought about,” she said. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
Brausen served as co-captain her junior year, but now she’s the only player who wears the “C.”
As captain, Brausen serves as a liaison between her teammates and the coaches.
She and Frost communicate frequently about the state of the team. As a male head coach, Frost isn’t always in the locker room.
He said Brausen is someone the coaches look at to be the “second coach in the locker room when we’re not there.”
Because of Brausen’s experiences, Frost said, she’s someone everyone can relate to. She can connect with the players who see lots of ice time, but she also knows what it’s like to be on the flip side.
“For players who really don’t play a lot and maybe struggle with that role on the team, she’s able to come alongside them and say, ‘I know how you feel,’” Frost said.
Brausen has had those conversations with her teammates before, and said she tries to pass along some of the same sentiments Erickson did for her.
Making everyone feel welcome
After the first week of practice this season, freshman defenseman Paige Haley returned to her apartment and found a letter on her desk from her captain. That letter contained all the things Brausen wished she had known as a freshman.
Haley said Brausen has made the freshmen feel welcome, improving on the culture from when Brausen was a freshman.
Brausen goes to great lengths to bring the team together, but she also emphasizes connecting with each of her teammates on a personal level.
In her sophomore year, she said everyone would do their own thing after warm-ups. She approached the captains about adding a new pregame routine, and it stuck.
Now, before every game the team goes around and everyone shares something they think the team needs to focus on in that game as a way to help the team get on the same page.
Brausen said she also likes to connect with as many of her teammates as possible before they hit the ice.
“Whether it’s doing a quote with [senior forward] Sarah Davis before every game or doing a little handshake with someone, she just finds a way to connect with everyone,” Gillanders said.
Brausen’s interpersonal skills go way beyond pregame rituals, though.
“If something’s wrong, she notices people,” Haley said. “If you’re having a rough day, you don’t even have to say anything — she’ll just notice, and she’ll come check on you.”
Now, months after writing the letter to the freshmen, Brausen and the Gophers look poised to make a run at a third straight national championship.
And Brausen is a big reason for that.
“I don’t think we would have had the success that we’ve had the last two years without Bethany as one of our captains,” Frost said.