While the Gophers' men's hockey team calls 3M Arena at Mariucci home throughout the season, a large group of current and former Gophers seem to have found their off-season home in Da Beauty League.
The four-on-four league calls Braemar Arena in Edina home and features 27 current and former Gopher hockey players in a heated competition. Da Beauty League was established in the fall of 2015 in an effort to bring professional hockey to Minnesota year-round. It serves as an opportunity for college and pro players to prepare for their upcoming seasons.
“It’s pretty cool to play where I went to high school,” Edina graduate and Minnesota sophomore defenseman Ben Brinkman said. “I played there for three years so it kind of feels like I’m back playing in high school.”
For current Gophers, the league offers a unique space for them to compete with and against their current teammates, as well as with pros they idolized growing up.
“It’s pretty cool to see those guys you watched on TV and being able to be out there with them, see how good they really are and see how skilled and how hard they work,'' Brinkman said.
“It’s fun to watch them play,” senior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf echoed. “Obviously they’re not going 100 percent but it’s cool to see the tricks they do during the game and see what they can do.
But playing against their current teammates is exciting too.
“It’s fun to play against those guys, Brinkman said. “You practice against those guys every day but you never really get to play against them.”
While the league itself isn’t as competitive as what these players will face in their upcoming seasons, it serves as a way for them to get in shape and try a few things out.
“It goes along with other training I’m doing, and even though it’s not full-speed, 100% all the time, it’s good to experience game-like situations and be able to make plays,'' Brinkman said.
“It’s a good opportunity to work on creativity and getting in shape," Zuhlsdorf said. “Being able to play with those pro guys is always beneficial to us younger guys.”
Finishing out summer league play in August, the Gopher players are thrilled to start the 2019-2020 season off strong. With a lot of younger players, they are hungry to make something happen.
“We’re a young team, but we have high expectations,'' Brinkman said. “We’re the University of Minnesota, everyone’s got high expectations for us and we have high expectations for ourselves. It starts in the summer getting to know the new freshman and bonding as a team, and right now we’re just getting closer as a team and preparing for the season to start.”
For Zuhlsdorf in his senior year, he’s looking to make a difference both in the league and as a leader.
“I’m looking to have a great year. Our team is gearing up here pretty well. Hopefully we can win a big ten championship and get into the NCAA tournament and have a good run at it. It’s going to be fun to be a senior and a leader in their eyes, and show them the Gopher way.”
Regular-season play began on July 10 and will be switching from Wednesday night games to every Monday and Wednesday throughout August.