U represented in 2010 Olympics

Five former and current Gophers are competing in Vancouver.

by Michael Rietmulder

The University of Minnesota menâÄôs and womenâÄôs hockey teams each have several ambassadors to help promote the school and athletics program at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he is excited for the Gophers who are representing their countries in Vancouver and that it casts a positive light upon the University. âÄúI think the Olympics is the ultimate sports stage,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúThereâÄôs no question that it provides a positive image of the University and Gopher athletics.âÄù Alumnae from the womenâÄôs team include Natalie Darwitz and Gigi Marvin playing for Team USA, and current Gophers freshman Noora Räty is FinlandâÄôs starting goaltender. Gophers womenâÄôs hockey coach Brad Frost said having players compete in the Olympics elevates the visibility of the program, which can be beneficial for recruiting. âÄúTo have them on TV for the world to see definitely helps us in our recruiting and gets the University of MinnesotaâÄôs name out there,âÄù Frost said. On Thursday, Räty will be faced with the task of stopping Darwitz and Marvin when Finland faces off against the high-powered U.S. womenâÄôs squad. Team USA has won its first two games decisively, outscoring China and Russia by a combined 25-1. âÄúItâÄôll be interesting,âÄù Frost said of the matchup. âÄúI would anticipate Noora being very busy that night.âÄù Darwitz, the captain of Team USA, amassed 246 points during her decorated collegiate career, which spanned from 2002 to 2006. As a freshman, she led the Gophers in scoring and earned the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Rookie of the Year award. Marvin âÄî a Warroad, Minn., native âÄî also earned WCHA Rookie of the Year honors and helped the Gophers reach the NCAA WomenâÄôs Frozen Four in the 2008-09 season. Frost said that sending current and former players to the Olympics is a testament to the UniversityâÄôs hockey program and that he takes pride in watching them compete at the international level. âÄúYou definitely feel like youâÄôve had a little part of it,âÄù Frost said. The U.S. menâÄôs Olympic roster features former Gophers forward Phil Kessel and defenseman Erik Johnson. Each played one season at the University before leaving for the NHL. Kessel currently plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs and has 21 goals and 20 assists this season, while Johnson has appeared in 60 games for the St. Louis Blues. âÄúItâÄôs an honor certainly for our program that these players have been a part of Gopher hockey before theyâÄôve moved on âĦ and have the opportunity to wear the USA hockey uniform,âÄù Gophers menâÄôs head coach Don Lucia said. Another former Gophers athlete, Paul Martin, was also named to the team but is unable to compete due to an injury, Lucia said. While it is an honor for any athlete to compete in the Olympics, Frost said it is especially meaningful for women hockey players who donâÄôt have a professional league. âÄúI think itâÄôs every young girlâÄôs dream to represent their country one day,âÄù Frost said. Maturi said that although the primary objective of the UniversityâÄôs athletics department is not to cultivate professional or Olympic talent, having current and former Gophers competing at the next level is evidence that student-athletes can use the University as a springboard to higher competition. âÄúIf thereâÄôs a recruit out there who wonders whether they can get to the next level by coming here, the answerâÄôs pretty obviously yes,âÄù Maturi said.