She started hearing young girls whisper her name at the rink last winter.
“That’s Natalie Snodgrass.”
That’s what happens, apparently, when you score the game-tying and overtime game-winning goals against Canada for a gold medal at the U18 Women’s World Championships.
But the welcome-home still felt pretty surreal for the Eastview star.
“That is so cool to me,” said Snodgrass. “I would never think that, me, that I could be someone’s role model, especially at this age.”
But that’s what Minnesota hockey is all about. It’s a model built on community and opportunity.
And what the numbers are telling us about Minnesota is that it’s not just a model that inspires, but a model that endures and works.
Follow the Leaders
You may likely hear kids utter another name around the rink this season.
“That’s Casey Mittelstadt.”
The electric forward tallied 79 points in 30 games as a junior last year. He is the preseason favorite for Mr. Hockey and is committed to the Gophers.
It’s no surprise Kyle Rau and Nick Leddy are two of Mittelstadt’s idols. Both won high school state championships at Eden Prairie. Both were named Mr. Hockey. Both played at the “U” and both realized their dreams.
With the spotlight now on Mittelstadt, he wants to set the right example.
“I think that’s the goal: be the best kid you can be. Give other kids someone to look up to,” said Mittelstadt. “Obviously Rau did a really good job with that and ended up with a lot of kids who wanted to be like him. We try to carry ourselves pretty well at Eden Prairie and let the young kids follow in our path.”
“I Always Wanted to Be Like Her—and I Still Do”
Who did Snodgrass idolize growing up? None other than Eagan’s Natalie Darwitz, the face of girls’ and women’s hockey in Minnesota. In fifth grade, Snodgrass actually dressed up as Darwitz for Halloween.
The two are connected through close family ties.
“She would come to the neighborhood and show us her sticks. That was super cool," said Snodgrass. "Even having the dream of playing college hockey or the Olympics or the national team, Natalie Darwitz was my goal-setting standard.
"I always wanted to be like her--and I still do."
Person I look up to … My brother (Colgate University freshman forward John Snodgrass)
Country I must visit … France
I chose Connecticut because … My sister (Emily Snodgrass) went there, I love the coaches and it’s a good fit for me
Nicknames … “Nat” or “Snods”
Superstitions … Always put on my right skate first
Favorite subject … Social studies
Country I must visit … Switzerland
Chose the “U” because … It’s been my dream since I was 2 years old
Nicknames … “Mitty” or “Case”
Fun fact ... As a 15 year old, Casey was passed over for the District 6 Boys HP 15 team. Two years later, he was chosen for a national team and is now considered a likely first round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Home Sweet Home
How important is high school hockey in Minnesota?
After winning gold in Canada this past January, Snodgrass rushed back home to try and make it to Eastview’s 2 p.m. game against Apple Valley the very next day. She got in at 12:30 p.m. and the airline lost her hockey equipment.
She grabbed her brother’s old gear and made it to the rink just in time.
“Even though I was completely exhausted from not sleeping at all since we were all hyped about the gold, I wanted to be a good captain to my team,” said Snodgrass. “And since I was gone for so long I would’ve felt bad about missing yet another game. I knew I wasn’t about to play my best game, but I was excited to be back with all my friends and family.”
She tallied a goal and three assists in the Lightning’s 7-0 victory.
Mittelstadt feels that same loyalty to his teammates.
“I think it just comes down to playing with your buddies,” said Mittelstadt. “We play Edina on Thursday night and it’s full. All the kids at school are going to the hockey games and talking about them the next day. Just the tradition and support in the community and playing with the same kids that you’ve played with your entire life. There’s nothing like it.”
So Much Emotion
In case you’ve been on the moon during the past year, Snodgrass is clutch. After shredding Canada for the come-from-behind gold medal in January, she crushed crosstown rival Eagan’s dreams in the Class 2A Section 3 final in February.
Down 3-2 late in the third, Snodgrass jammed home the game-tying goal with less than 10 seconds left. She scored the overtime game-winner to send the Lightning to state.
Snodgrass will never forget winning gold for her country, but she’ll forever treasure that moment with her best friends.
“Playing in front of your own school, I think that made it so much more special,” said Snodgrass. “Yes, it’s a gold medal compared to going to state, there's an obvious difference, but I was so much more emotional because I was with my best friends and my own fans. It was crazy."
That's what community-based hockey gives you. And that's what Minnesota hockey is all about.
"The bonds that you make through hockey are incredible and they last a lifetime," said Snodgrass. "Growing up and playing hockey has been the best decision of my life. It's taken me so many places. Enjoy it while it lasts and never take it for granted."