Gophers brush up skills in Da Beauty League

Seven Gophers hockey players move on to play for teams in the league.

Gophers forward Justin Kloos handles the puck at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 16, 2015.

Alex Tuthill-Preus, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Justin Kloos handles the puck at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 16, 2015.

Jack White

Team workouts have begun for collegiate hockey teams across the country, but many Gophers hockey players are finding offseason training from a different kind of practice. 

Seven current Gophers players are lacing it up in Da Beauty League, which is composed of six teams with college, amateur and professional hockey players, this summer. The teams play two games a week, each on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, at Braemar Arena in Edina, Minn.

“You are playing against NHL guys who are obviously more talented than some NCAA guys,” said rising junior defenseman Steve Johnson. “You know the skill out there and the talent is definitely really good, so whenever you get to skate against these guys, it’s an opportunity you don’t really want to miss out on.”

Da Beauty League is a 4-on-4 hockey league with two 30-minute halves. The game is fast-paced and rarely features checking. Many players utilize the league to stay in shape during the offseason. 

The league has six teams that feature seven current Gophers and 22 former Minnesota players, including Minnesota Wild players Mike Reilly and Jordan Schroeder and former Wild forward Thomas Vanek.

Coaches of the teams also include notable Minnesota alumni Erik Rasmussen, Keith Ballard, Ben Clymer and Scott Bell.

Minnesota senior Justin Kloos was recently added to Team Aspire, where he plays alongside former teammates Reilly, Adam Wilcox and current Minnesota forward Tommy Novak. Past Gophers Nick Bjugstad, Nick Leddy, Zach Budish and Seth Helgeson are also on the team.

“Obviously it’s a lot different,” Kloos said. “We’re still in our offseason, so no one wants to go too hard and get hurt and stuff. … A lot of the pro guys don’t start skating hard until a little bit into August, so I think it’s good for them to get on the ice.”

Despite the star power Da Beauty League rosters boast, the system is relatively low-key. Florida Panthers center and Team Aspire captain Nick Bjugstad said he heard about the league’s formation toward the end of his professional season and decided to join. 

It costs $5 to see three Beauty League games on Tuesday and Thursday nights, with some of the proceeds going to charities such as the United Heroes League. The league has already developed a solid fan base in its two weeks of play.

“Everyone from the metro, college, NHL guys, minor league guys are playing,” Bjugstad said. “It’s hard to pass up … and on Tuesday, Thursday nights you’re not doing much, so you might as well come and have a little fun. I couldn’t even believe how many fans that were there to begin with, and just to see how excited these fans are in the middle of summer for hockey is pretty cool.” 

The season closes out with playoffs and an August 10 championship game for the “John Scott Cup,” dedicated to 2016 NHL All-Star Game MVP and fan favorite John Scott. Scott has also been dubbed the league’s “Very Part-Time Honorary Commissioner.”

The teams are sometimes inconsistent, as players take games off “due to summer vacationing and other beautiful activities,” according to the league’s website. Still, the experience has been memorable for all so far. 

“[It’s] fun for the fans [and] fun for us to get back in shape,” Bjugstad said.