MINNEAPOLIS — With the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team missing the NCAA playoffs for the first time in his 14 years behind their bench, and his top assistant coach departing, Gophers head coach Brad Frost knew a bold move was needed in the off-season.
On Thursday, July 29, he made two of them.
Hamline University head coach Natalie Darwitz — a Gophers hockey legend — and her top Pipers assistant coach Jake Bobrowski are moving from St. Paul to Minneapolis and will be Frost’s assistant coaches with the Gophers starting this winter.
Darwitz, 37, is one of the most decorated and renowned hockey players in Minnesota history. The Eagan, Minnesota, native played in three Olympics, won three world championship gold medals and won two NCAA titles in the three seasons she played for the Gophers. She admitted that it was a tough decision to move on from the Hamline program, but is excited for the opportunity to return to her alma mater.
“Brad painted a picture of the program and thought the way I coach and my character as a person would go along really well with what they need right now,” she said.
After working as an assistant coach for Frost in the late 2000s, Darwitz became the girls hockey head coach at Lakeville South and led the Cougars to the state tournament in 2015. From there she took over a mediocre Hamline program and had the Pipers in the NCAA Division III tournament in her third season.
Bobrowski spent seven seasons with the Pipers working with Darwitz after a successful run as the girls’ hockey coach at Hill-Murray High School. Darwitz is quick to credit him as a partner in the Pipers’ turnaround, and conveyed that to Frost in their discussions.
“Jake has obviously really worked well with Natalie when you look at their record from when they came to Hamline until now, they’ve turned that program around significantly,” Frost said. “He’s a grinder, he’s a recruiter, he’s brought some great players to Hamline, and knowing he and Natalie work so well together already, it was a really easy hire.”
The Gophers were 8-1-0 on Jan. 10 and ranked atop the national polls. They closed the season on a 3-7-1 run and in a surprise move, did not get an invite to the eight-team NCAA tournament, which was eventually won by arch-rival Wisconsin.
“That was incredibly hard to take, and it’s been some great motivation for us, our team and our program for this coming year,” Frost said. “But it was also motivation when I looked at who my staff was going to be. It’s important to get people in here that have a strong desire to win and that care deeply about our program and our values and who we are, but also really want to keep our program in the forefront in the NCAA.”
Darwitz told The Rink Live that the Gophers program is among the top five in the nation, but that is not where they expect to be, and said a goal of hers is to, “take care of business and get back to the mentality of, ‘it’s really tough to play the Gophers, it’s really scary to play the Gophers.’”
“I think that’s a reason Brad was really interested in me and Jake, because we bring that mentality and the blue-collar foundation,” Darwitz said. “Everybody should be intimidated by the ‘M’ on the chest, and right now I don’t know if that’s always the case. We’ll certainly find out in the near future, but we want to get back to the University of Minnesota being on top. It’s funny that people ask, ‘what needs to change?’ because they’re still a top five program in the country, but at the University of Minnesota, that’s not enough.”
In June, it was announced that long-time Frost assistant Joel Johnson would be the new women’s hockey head coach at St. Thomas. On Wednesday, July 28, Johnson was also named the Team USA head coach for the 2022 Winter Olympics.