After a lost year on the ice, Whitney Graft emerging in her second year

Zach Eisendrath

Sophomore forward Whitney Graft isn’t used to sitting and watching. She’s used to contributing.

When Graft was forced to look on from the bench as Minnesota’s women’s hockey team won its second-straight national championship last season, the Wayzata High School graduate decided to take matters into her own hands this offseason.

The strong-willed Graft, a four-year letter-winner in hockey, softball and tennis at Wayzata, put in countless hours this summer to make sure she would get serious playing time this year.

“For somebody who didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, she really dedicated herself over the summer and has made a huge impact this season,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “It’s very noticeable.”

Clearly, her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by her teammates.

Following the Gophers’ 4-1 victory over in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth on Friday, in which Graft tallied an assist, sophomore Anya Miller praised her fellow underclassman.

“Whit is the hardest worker,” Miller said, “one of the hardest workers I have ever met.

“Day in and day out, it doesn’t matter. Game or practice, or whenever we are in the weight room or skating on the treadmill. She works her tail off all the time. So she deserves everything she is getting this year.”

And what does Graft think of Miller’s assessment?

“That’s the best compliment I could get,” Graft said.

So far, Graft has already surpassed last year’s statistical totals. She has three points in eight games and scored her first collegiate goal Oct. 15 in the Gophers’ 3-2 win at Bemidji State. For the first time in her collegiate career, she now receives a regular shift.

But things weren’t always so pleasant for the Wayzata native.

Graft played in 28 games last season, tallying only one point – an assist – in the Gophers’ 8-2 victory over Brown University. On the season, Graft attempted only eight shots on goal.

Times were tough for the freshman last season. Graft had trouble adjusting to the fact that she wasn’t going to see much ice time. After enjoying individual success in high school – Graft was a 2004 Ms. Hockey top-10 finalist – she struggled to come to grips with her new role.

“I’ve just never been in that situation,” Graft said of her limited ice time. “It’s really hard and very humbling. But it helped me grow a lot as a person and to be a better teammate.”

She never saw the ice in Minnesota’s national championship game but said that when it came down to it, being part of the winning experience was a thrill.

Graft attributes her newfound success largely to her mental toughness.

“I learned to have confidence in myself,” she said, “that I can do it by listening to the people that believe in me and just kind of tuning everyone out who doubted me and didn’t think I could do it.”

Physically, Graft redefined herself. By lifting weights and shifting on a skating treadmill, she has improved her stride and speed, which, she said, “has made a huge difference.”

Graft said she expects big things out of herself as the season goes on.

“I want to make an impact, whether it’s scoring, digging in the corners or getting assists,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter how I contribute, as long as I can.”