Hard Hat tradition brings Gophers together

Ex-Gophers captain Sarah Erickson introduced the “Hard Hat Player of the Game” last year.

Megan Ryan

In the locker room or during interviews after a Gophers women’s hockey game, one player is always sporting a maroon hard hat with the Minnesota ‘M’ on each side.

No, the Gophers haven’t decided to help out with the campus light-rail construction.

The “Hard Hat Player of the Game” is actually a tradition introduced last year by former Gophers forward and captain Sarah Erickson.

“I’d seen the hard hat … [in] the NHL and men’s college teams,” Erickson said, “and I thought it was a cool idea, whether win or lose, to give credit where credit is due.”

She said the hat would also serve as motivation for players to stand out individually in addition to helping the team win.

Erickson and fellow 2011-12 captain Jen Schoullis got the idea from the HBO show “24/7” about the NHL Winter Classic, where one of the teams had a similar ritual.

“Every good idea is stolen from somebody or other,” head coach Brad Frost said.

Erickson said she and current captain senior defender Megan Bozek drove around the metro area one day looking for the perfect hard hat.

“We ended up going to Home Depot and asking the guy at the counter, and he’s like, ‘What the heck do you guys need a hard hat for?’” Erickson said. “And we said, ‘It’s for business.’”

Once Erickson obtained the hard hat, she explained to the team how it worked. Frost would give out the hard hat after the first game of the season. After that, it was up to the most recent winner to decide which player received the honor next.

The team took to the idea pretty quickly, senior forward Becky Kortum said.

“Everyone loves the hard hat because a lot of times not everyone feels recognized or feels like people notice them,” Kortum said. “It’s a way to let people know that you notice their hard work.”

Kortum likened wearing the hard hat to winning an award, but she said it isn’t all glamorous.

“I don’t want to call it hazing, but like it’s teasing,” Kortum said. “If you wear the hard hat, yeah, it’s special. But you also have to be embarrassed and wear it around everywhere. Even when you go talk to your parents, you have to wear it.”

Junior forward and captain Bethany Brausen said with talented players like junior forward Amanda Kessel, freshman forward Hannah Brandt and senior goaltender Noora Räty, the choice for Hard Hat Player of the Game is sometimes obvious.

“They’re getting it every other game,” Brausen said. “We joke to them, ‘Keep it for yourself,’ after games.”

But Brausen said she makes an effort to give the hard hat to players who are more under the radar.

“I really try to look more than just who scored the most goals,” Brausen said. “I really want it to go to the player that’s working their hardest and making a big difference that way.”

While Erickson instituted the hard hat as a way to reinforce the team’s motto of “tough, grateful, disciplined, devoted,” she said the ultimate goal was “to have a little fun.”

“It’s all about bringing the team together in the end.”