This is no April Fool’s, people. Rachael Bona, a member of the Minnesota Golden Gopher Women’s hockey team – the team that just won the National Championship – agreed to meet with me on April 1. After some Facebook messages and texts, we landed on Sunday afternoon. Evenings are busy for Rach, and with the Men’s Frozen Four approaching, neither of us wanted to schedule our meeting for Thursday night!
We met on the campus of the University of Minnesota at the Starbucks on Washington Avenue – a mass of construction and chaos. When I arrived, a few minutes late due to lack of parking, Rachael was waiting outside at one of the tables, “tanning.” We hugged and said our hello’s as we walked into the stuffy Starbucks (apparently no AC, yet) and ordered our cold drinks. The lack of air flow indoors sent us right back outside to a table in the sun!
After catching up a bit on life, lamenting about the lack of parking and the crazy mess of Washington Avenue, reminiscing on memories from our younger years, we eased into a casual interview conversation. With her quick smile and easy laugh, Rachael sipped on her iced drink and crunched on ice chips while filling me in on life as a Golden Gopher.
MN: SO! National Champion! Has it sunk in?
RB: Not really! Kind of…I guess. We’ve been really busy doing a lot of events. We went to the Capitol. Sarah Erickson, our Captain, got to lead the whole floor in the Pledge of Allegiance. We (the rest of the team) sat really far up and watched! Went to a WILD Game so we were on the big screen. Some of my friends said they saw me on TV. Got some air time! We went to the Governor’s Mansion. And he let us go into rooms that people hadn’t been in for like 20 years. Like private family rooms. We might get to go to the White House, we’re not sure. I hope we can! That’s what I’m looking forward to the most. I guess Obama didn’t invite Wisconsin last year though, which I didn’t know that, I thought they had gone. Some people said that maybe we will get to go this year because it’s an election year and there’s some girl who went to the U who works at the White House or something, so she might be able to get us in. If we do get invited, I guess Obama’s people will just call us up and give us a date and we HAVE to go on that date. There’s no rescheduling!
MN: As a freshman, did you ever think you’d be part of a National Championship team your first year?
RB: It’s unreal that I won my freshman year and we won the WCHA Championship, too. It’s been 7 years since that’s happened – either of those. I have high expectations for the rest of my seasons here! The seniors said don’t expect it to happen every year! I came here (to the U) to win a National Championship and I did that.
MN: Was there a point in the season where you thought, this is it – we’re going all the way?
RB: Wisconsin’s really good. But, toward the end of the season I knew we were going to win. After we won the WCHA Championship, I knew we were going to go all the way. I just didn’t doubt it.
MN: Now, I know you’re not one to get super nervous before games, BUT…after you beat UND at Ridder in the Quarterfinals, did any nerves creep in knowing that you’d be heading back up to Duluth, most likely facing Wisconsin?
RB: When we played Cornell and Wisconsin, I didn’t get nervous until we were in the locker room about to go out – after warm-ups and all that, but I’m not really a nervous player. Some players let nerves get to them and I don’t. I was more excited, jittery. I was nervous during the Championship when Wisconsin tied it up – but it was more of a ‘Crap! We just blew a 2-0 lead.’
MN: What was it like to play in a border battle for the National Championship? What was your biggest challenge in playing Wisconsin?
RB: I expected it to end that way. We beat them twice during the regular season and I knew it was going to be the ultimate game right there. Wisconsin has a lot of good players. Coach Frost says that with Wisconsin it’s always a race to three – whoever gets to three points first. That’s the way our regular season games had gone against them. We played them at the beginning of the season and we lost 3-2, won 3-2. Played them in January and had a 3-3 tie and won 1-0. We knew we had to get on them right away. Both teams have great goalies. Wisconsin has this ultimate first line. They take one of their second line girls and move her up to the first line and *phew* they are good. Nora played unreal for us!
MN: Next year – sophomore year – how are you going to top freshman year?!
RB: Repeat! 2 time National Champion! I would like to win the regular season. I mean, we won the WCHA Championship, but we didn’t win the regular season.Wisconsin won the regular season.
MN: Right, so you were opposite of the men’s team – they won their regular season and lost their championship.
RB: Right. Yeah, so that’s the one thing I haven’t done!
MN: How did playing on a National Championship team compare to playing on US Women’s National teams? If you can even compare the two…
RB: They are a lot different! USA hockey – it’s a lot of individuals. Everyone is the best from their team. There aren’t the bonds like you have with your team. Communication is easier on your own team. Like on the US teams, no one really says, ‘Oh, you need to do this or that for the next game.’ But on my team, teammates will tell you what you need to do. The leadership is different. When I played U18, we were all so young. But here, there are seniors who have been through this before. Sarah Erickson is amazing.
MN: What would you say to young girls, U10 or U14, who just watched you win a National Championship and want to make it to the D1 level?
RB: Keep working hard. People are getting so much better. You have to keep going. Work hard. There’s some really talented young kids, but if you don’t keep working hard, someone else will pass you. Pick a college where you know you’ll be happy. It’s just a gut feeling. You’ll know it’s the right place. I knew I wanted to come here; no other place. I just had that feeling.
MN: As a kid, what Gopher players did you look up to?
RB: Krissy Wendell. I remember going to a game with my dad and just watching Krissy. I don’t know, maybe that’s why I chose #7 (in high school). I don’t know where it came from – either Krissy or because the Disney Channel was channel 7. I’m not sure! Yeah, Krissy and Natalie Darwitz.
MN: Have you met either of them?
RB: I met Natalie when I toured. She gave me my tour because she was still the assistant coach. I missed her by a year! I haven’t met Krissy, but I guess her little sister played against me in high school. And her parents saw my brother once and said that she (Krissy’s sister) thought I was a great high school player!
MN: Oh, yeah. I know Kara and told her I knew you. She was like, ‘You KNOW her?! She’s a stud!’ So, you have a fan in Krissy’s sister!
RB: *Laughs and smiles
MN: Growing up, did you always want to play college hockey?
RB: Yeah. I always knew I was going to play college hockey. It’s a big reason why I quit soccer. I knew I had a future in hockey. And I didn’t want to get hurt playing soccer.
MN: You played other sports growing up. Do you think that made you a better hockey player?
RB: Yes. I do think it’s good for kids to play multiple sports. It helps you become more well rounded. If I had played just hockey and not tried anything else, I would have been bored. I liked having soccer in the fall and then hockey. I played softball one year and golf, too. Just to do something different.
MN: What are some skills you personally want to work on this off-season?
RB: I need to get stronger. I’m a lot stronger because of my work last summer, but I need to get stronger. I need to work on getting a better shot. It’s so hard to get a goal against goalies in college hockey. And I need to capitalize on scoring opportunities. I had so many chances, especially at the end of the season.
MN: Right! Like in the UND game!
RB: I KNOW! Seriously. Yeah, I need to be making those.
MN: This is a big week for the men’s team. Do you have any advice for the guys as they face BC?
RB: Oh! I don’t know! They better come out to play! Like our team, none of them have been to where they are now. They are well-prepared. They’re a very good team.
MN: How sweet if you both won National Championships in the same year!
RB: They’d take all our glory!
MN: Ha! People would be like, ‘What Women’s team?!’
RB: Seriously. When I tell people I play for the Gophers, they’re like, ‘Oh, so you play at Mariucci.’ No! They don’t even know we have our own rink!
MN: Well, so many women’s teams share with the men’s teams…But still!
RB: Yeah, it would be sweet though if they (men’s team) won. I hope they win!
MN: You’d for sure have to go to the White House!
The interview faded into regular conversation as we finished off our Starbucks and walked back toward the Aquatics Center where Rachael parked her scooter and I parked my car. Rachael’s wit and sarcasm at all the right moments, along with her upbeat chatter on life as a typical college student, procrastinating on homework and scooting around campus on her scooter, was an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We parted ways with a hug and Rachael said I could interview her any time, as long as Starbucks was involved! MN Meditations will definitely check in again with Rachael.
Looking forward to watching more great Gopher Women’s hockey! And GOOD LUCK to the Gopher men as they take on BC in Tampa this Thursday night!
Get to know Rachael Bona!