Ramsey carries the torch

Rachel Ramsey and her brother keep their family’s legacy on the ice.

Rachel Ramsey and her father Mike Ramsey at Ridder Arena on Sunday. Mike Ramsey played hockey at the University of Minnesota for a season before making the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. His daughter Rachel is a junior defenseman on the Gopher womens hockey team and her younger brother Jack signed a national letter of intent to play for the Gophers next year.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Rachel Ramsey and her father Mike Ramsey at Ridder Arena on Sunday. Mike Ramsey played hockey at the University of Minnesota for a season before making the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. His daughter Rachel is a junior defenseman on the Gopher women’s hockey team and her younger brother Jack signed a national letter of intent to play for the Gophers next year.

by Betsy Helfand

When Jill Ramsey first saw her oldest daughter, Rachel, suited up in hockey gear, she cried.

Jill Ramsey is a former dancer. Her husband, Mike Ramsey, was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and a former NHL player.

The Ramseys let their three children choose their own paths — two chose hockey, one chose dance.

Rachel took after her father, despite the lack of opportunities for girls in hockey at the time.

“I imagined both girls would probably be in dance or other sports, but not hockey,” Jill said. “But literally within six months of [Rachel] actually playing, I just knew it was her passion, and I’ve been her biggest fan ever since.”

Rachel is now a junior defenseman for the University of Minnesota’s back-to-back national champion women’s team, and she is a key piece of the Gophers’ defensive corps like her dad once was.

Her younger brother, Jack, currently plays for the Penticton Vees in British Columbia and signed a National Letter of Intent in November to play for the Gophers men’s team.

When he hits the ice with the maroon and gold on his chest, he will be the third person in his immediate family to do so.

Hannah, the family’s middle child, is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas. She had the option to play hockey as well but instead decided to dance competitively.

Still, hockey is ever-present in the Ramsey family. Hannah said that between carpools, picking up her siblings and going to their games, she felt like she spent about as much time at the rink as they did.

“It’s definitely a family thing whether you’re on the team or not,” she said.

Growing up at the X

Rachel started her hockey career in upstate New York, where Mike Ramsey was an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres. The family moved to Minnesota after her father took a job as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild.

While girls’ youth hockey in the late 1990s wasn’t as popular as it is today, Rachel had the unique opportunity to grow up skating at the Xcel Energy Center.

Rachel said it was just her and Jack skating at the Xcel for the most part, but Hannah would also occasionally come and swing her stick around at her brother and sister.

The siblings had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the game from NHL players and coaches. But there was one coach whose advice they didn’t always seek out — their father.

“[Former Wild head coach] Jacques Lemaire taught the kids a lot. At that age, your parents really don’t know anything,” Jill Ramsey said. “Now, looking back, they probably would acknowledge that their dad knew a little bit about what he was telling them.”

Rachel said she didn’t always take her father’s advice, so he would send others to teach her.

“They just said what he wanted them to say,” she said.

As young kids, Rachel said, she and her brother would skate around the rink before the Wild held open practices.

“A few fans would trickle in, and we used to skate around and pretend the fans were there for us,” Rachel said. “We’d get so excited when there were people in the stands.”

Now, fans fill arenas to see them play.

Choosing the U

Mike Ramsey played for Minnesota for a season, winning a national title under Herb Brooks before leaving for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic team and, eventually, the NHL.

He went on only one college visit.

“For me, it was a no-brainer,” he said.

Rachel and Jack went on a few more visits than their father, but for the kids who grew up in the area, Minnesota was the logical choice.

“You grow up watching the Minnesota Gophers,” Jack said. “It’s a childhood dream, so being able to make that a reality is just obviously a dream come true.”

For Rachel, two pivotal points growing up impacted her decision.

In her under-12 season, a few members of the Gophers women’s roster came to talk to her team.

“I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Rachel said. “I was like, ‘I want to be just like those girls.’ And it stuck.”

Around the same time, her grandparents took her to her first Gophers women’s hockey game.

Her mouth was open the entire time.

“My grandma kept reaching over and tapping my jaw shut and telling me to close my mouth because flies were going to get in,” Rachel said.

In both college decisions, Mike largely removed himself from the equation, letting his children make their own choices.

After Rachel committed to Minnesota, she said, she could see her dad getting a little teary-eyed.

“I’ve always been a Gophers fan, and so to have your kids be able to play in your hometown, your home state, for your home team, it’s pretty special,” Mike said.

Time at the U

The name “Ramsey” might be on the back of both a Gophers women’s and a men’s jersey next season.

Rachel will be a senior, and Jack could be a freshman, though that’s still up in the air.

Gophers head men’s coach Don Lucia said if he retains much of his current roster, the plan is for Jack to spend another year in juniors.

“I think right now, he’s still in the developmental curve,” Lucia said. “He has to continue to get stronger.”

Freshman forward Vinni Lettieri, Jack’s former teammate at Minnetonka High School, said he thinks Jack has a bright future ahead of him.

“He has great speed, great hands and can really shoot the puck well,” Lettieri said. “He has tall stature, which helps him out tremendously.”

At 6 feet, Rachel is the tallest player on the women’s team, and her height plays to her advantage.

So does her background.

“When you grow up in a hockey family … you probably understand the game better than most,” Gophers head women’s coach Brad Frost said.

Frost said he thinks one of Rachel’s greatest strengths is her understanding of the game, and teammate senior defenseman Baylee Gillanders said Rachel has a lot of “hockey sense.”

Growing up with a coach certainly contributed to that for both Rachel and Jack.

“I have my coaches in my locker room, and obviously, they do a ton for me, and then I get off the ice and there’s a coach waiting for me,” Jack said. “Sometimes he’s brutally honest with me, but it’s all for the best.”

These days, more so than when they were younger, the Ramseys are apt to take their father’s hockey advice.

“He catches all of my games online,” Jack said. “I’ll get out of the rink after every game and wait for a phone call or text. He critiques my game. It’s really nice.”

A hockey family

When her kids were growing up, Jill Ramsey said, she used to clock her miles every week.

With Rachel and Jack’s hockey, Hannah’s dance and her husband often on the road with his busy coaching schedule, she said she usually averaged between 400 and 500 miles per week.

“She was up at the 5 a.m. practices getting us to and from, always running the carpools,” Rachel said. “She was a big factor in the success of all of us.”

Now, two of her kids are about 25 miles from home, and eventually her third will be, too.

And after all that driving, Jill said it’s an “absolute blessing” that her three kids will be close.

“[It’s the] icing on the cake,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

It allows for a lot more family time — and family dinners, where the topic of conversation is often — what else — hockey.

“There [are] definitely times at the dinner table where my mom or I will be like, ‘OK, can we stop talking about the game for a minute?’” Hannah said. “[It’s] always out of a place of love.”

For the Ramseys, hockey is “kind of a way of life,” Hannah said.

“We have a lot of different things going on,” he said, “but it always seems to come back to hockey.”