From walk-on to senior captain, Graft has worked her way up the ladder

Graft spent much of her first season in the stands but is now leading a hot squad.

Nick Heronimus

The honor of being named captain is satisfying, but it is can be even better when it comes after years of hard work.

That is the case for Gophers senior forward Whitney Graft, who entered the Minnesota women’s hockey program as a walk-on and now has achieved the status of captain.

Graft had hoped to be named captain and when she was announced as the captain for this season she was elated because of how badly she wanted that honor.

“It was just unbelievable,” Graft said.

Her most valuable asset as a captain on the team is her ability to relate to those on the team who see lots of minutes and those who might not see as many minutes during a game, head coach Brad Frost said.

“She’s a pretty special person and a pretty special player,” Frost said.

She is a player that does all the little things in senior co-captain Bobbi Ross’ eyes.

“She’ll be the player that will dive head first in front of a shot if she knows that’s what we need done,” Ross said. “She can score a goal; she can stop a goal; she is a very versatile player.”

Graft’s rise through the program to become a captain her senior year did not come easily.

She entered the program as a walk-on from Wayzata High School. While Graft was at Wayzata she excelled in three sports, but her accomplishments on the ice shined the brightest.

She was a top 10 finalist for the 2004 Ms. Hockey award and was a three-time all-conference selection in hockey.

Her role, though, changed dramatically when she became part of the Gophers squad and saw less game action.

“It was probably one of the hardest experiences in my sporting career,” Graft said.

In her freshman year, each game, one player would not dress, and she often found herself in that position.

“It was definitely hard to be the lone one in the stands sometimes,” Graft said.

Graft decided that she was not happy with sitting on the bench and put her mind to increasing her playing time.

She worked hard throughout the summer to earn more playing time, Frost said.

Motivation for working in the summer came from within to prove to her and others that she belonged.

“I didn’t want to be this walk-on that never made it,” Graft said.

Good training programs in the off-season and working with the goal of wanting to establish her spot on the team resulted in more playing time in her sophomore year.

The work paid off as her playing time shot up by 13 games from her freshman year to her sophomore year as she saw action in all 41 of the Gophers’ appearances.

The improvement that Graft showed was also due to the fact that she was given the opportunity to show what she could do, Ross said.

The strides Graft made in her development as a player continued during her junior season as she increased her point production from the year before and won the GWH award, which is given to the athlete that most demonstrates the Gophers Women’s Hockey creed.

This season Graft is the team’s vocal leader, Frost said.

She has helped lead the team to victories in the last two weekends over top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin.

When reflecting on her growth through the program, Graft said she would not have wanted it any other way because she has earned the respect from her teammates by proving herself to them.