(Left) Chorske won the inaugural Mr. Hockey award in 1985. (Right) Brodt-Brown crashed the boys banquet in 1996 to be named the first Ms. Hockey.
I’m going to paint a few pictures for you.
Let’s start in 1985. If you listen closely, you can hear 99.5 FM (WLOL!) serving up a gorgeous mix of Duran Duran, Madonna, Air Supply and Prince. But young Tom Chorske was actually more of an INXS guy as he was growing up near Uptown. His school, Minneapolis West, had just closed, so as a freshman he had to scoot across town all the way to Southwest High School. He usually did so in his Girbaud jeans—which Chorske admitted he’d “fold and roll”—Timberland boots, and a splash of Polo cologne (green bottle). “I had a buddy who used to put Polo cologne in his iron when he was doing his dress shirts,” said Chorske.
Reflecting years later, Chorske knows he wasn’t the total package in high school. He had the hair: “Yeah, I had a little mullet. It was a little longer in back." But, shockingly as a high-school hockey star, Chorske somehow didn’t have the hockey chain necklace. “Would you believe a girl in college noticed my lack of the gold chain, and bought me one my freshman year?! She drove a black Fiero,” said Chorske. Talk about the one that got away . . .
Okay, now let’s move a couple ticks down the dial. Stop right there. 101.3, KDWB FM, is on the radio. We hear radio DJ Tony Fly barking over the latest hits from New Kids on the Block, Bon Jovi, and the rest of the original boy bands. The year is 1996. We see a young blueliner from Roseville. Her name is Winny Brodt, and she’s cruising in her black 1985 Camaro. “I kept my hockey stuff in the back; my gear was completely frozen all the time,” reflected Brodt (now Brodt-Brown). Winny is wearing her letter jacket, an Abercrombie & Fitch flannel, leggings, and Dr. Martens. “I should have saved those Dr. Martens; they’re cool again,” says Brodt-Brown.
Cut to a cold Sunday morning in January, 2019. I’ve invited these two, the first family of hockey, the original Mr. Hockey Tom Chorske and the original Ms. Hockey Winny Brodt-Brown, to join me for breakfast at Mickey’s Diner on West 7th in Saint Paul. Fast-forward both Chorske and Brodt-Brown are now friends and hockey parents themselves. Chorske is the proud parent of a 6’6” forward on the Edina boys’ high school team, a sophomore on the girls’ high-school team who is committed to Harvard, and a 12-year-old peewee aged son. Brodt-Brown has two sons, age 5 and 4, who are already playing Mites and chasing her around on the ice as she coaches girls with her own company, Os Hockey Training. “It’s funny—with my job coaching girls, I grew up playing with the boys, and my sons will grow up skating with the girls,” said Brodt-Brown. “I hope they’ll at least be able to pick up a date!”
The goal of this St. Paul Summit was more than just eating some blueberry pancakes (note: they were pretty good). Instead, the hope was that we could gain some perspective from these two hockey savants by asking them what’s changed about the game, and more importantly, what would they like to see change. In what was a free-wheeling discussion, both Chorske and Brodt-Brown settled on six major themes:
(Left) Chorske went full “blue steel” for his Metro Player of the Year photo. (Right) Don’t let the jumper fool ya, Brodt-Brown was a proud public-school kid from Roseville.
When I asked Tom and Winny if they could wave a magic wand and change anything about high school and youth hockey today, neither hesitated as they answered in unison, “No social media.” They went on to explain that the constant pressure of social media is creating depression and judgment at a very young age for our hockey players. “Everywhere you look, these kids are seeing someone announcing their commitment,” said Chorske. “Can you imagine being constantly ranked or seeing your test scores online every day for school? Or looking for a job and seeing every person who got a job posting about it that day when you didn’t? That’s what it’s like for these kids. When we were playing, sure, we had pressure for the biggest games, but these kids have pressure and stress every single day.”
Brodt-Brown explained the social media pressure has even spilled into her role with Os Hockey Training: “I’ve actually had kids ask me why I don’t post about them more on social media. And I tell them because that’s not what it’s about,” said Brodt-Brown. “What matters isn’t likes or clicks on social media, it’s the email I get from a parent telling me how a player went out of her way to skate with a little kid and help her shoot. That’s what I’m looking for.” And as for ranking kids, Brodt-Brown had this to say: “I rank my kids. On attitude and effort, because that’s all that matters.”
Chorske believes the insta-perfection these kids see online doesn’t tell the whole story. “You only post hattys and game winners. You don’t see posts about missed breakaways or blocked shots. Unfortunately, we’re creating a success only culture. And when you’re always looking to find a kid success, how are they going to learn to fail?” Brodt-Brown also noticed the imbalance: “It’s too bad, because you often learn the most from failure. I should know; I missed on three Olympic teams.”
“Fold and Roll” Chorske loved the ‘80s. (Right) Brodt-Brown drove something from the ‘80s.
Another theme Chorske and Brodt-Brown noticed was the importance of leaving enough space for kids to decide to love the game for themselves. But they were careful to point out it’s not about time spent on the rink. “I guarantee we were on the ice more outside on the ponds and playing street hockey than these kids are on the ice today,” said Brodt-Brown. “So, it’s not about cutting down on the time. It’s about giving them the space to be creative and free.”
Brodt-Brown talked about the 30 minutes of free time she regularly gives her boys on the ice, and one of Chorske’s best memories growing up was all about unstructured play. “I had a high-school buddy, Chris May, whose dad Denny ran Bloomington Ice Garden for 36 years. We lived over there,” Chorske reminisced.
Brodt-Brown thinks the game has become too rigorous. “There’s so much intensity on training and private lessons. We’re treating the game like it’s a job. I see young kids arriving an hour early to the rink and doing a full dynamic warm-up, when they should be getting to the rink a few minutes early, putting their stuff on, and going out to play. If they’re doing all of the pro-style things at a young age, it’s only going to burn them out.”
Chorske takes a different approach with his peewee-aged son: “We always get a donut and hot chocolate when he has a really early-morning practice. I know I haven’t done everything right as a hockey parent, but at my funeral, if there’s one thing he’ll remember about hockey, it’s that we always got that donut and hot chocolate. Kids are still kids.”
Chorske summed things up: “Less is probably more.” Brodt-Brown was even more definitive, “less is more.” Chorske went on to explain the benefit of scaling back, “At some point more private lessons, more tournaments, and more ice time is just burning them out. It’s important to leave some appetite. And when you give them everything, unfortunately they’re always full.”
The biggest change Chorske and Brodt-Brown have noticed since their playing days is the shift away from a game dominated primarily by public schools with a ton of pride and tradition. “Growing up, we hated everybody,” said Brodt-Brown. “Anyone we played, we had no friends. White Bear Lake. Stillwater. We hated them all. I remember skating around in warm-ups chanting and banging our sticks, ‘I’m from Roseville, couldn’t be prouder! If you can’t hear me—I’ll yell a little louder!’ No one asked us to do that.”
Part of the shift could be who’s behind the bench. “I think part of it was back then all of our coaches were also our teachers at school,” said Brodt-Brown. “They were more dialed in because they saw you in 4th-period biology, or they were your gym teacher,” added Chorske. “I remember my golf coach would just hand us a sleeve of balls and say ‘go get ‘em’ and ‘good luck.’ That’s just how it was back then,” added Brodt-Brown.
Chorske feels the change as well. “It was a single-class state tourney when we were growing up. And there were ten high-school teams just in Minneapolis. I remember being enamored and honored to play for Southwest because of the players who came before me.” Chorske believes part of the strength of the game when he was growing up was more socio-economic diversity. “We had everything from Lake of the Isles to Bryant Park. You might be playing at Parade or VMIA, where you could get your tires slashed and might not wear your nicest pair of sneakers to practice.” Chorske believes part of this diminished community pride could be the result of being overscheduled: “There are too many big games for kids today, especially in the summer. We’ve shifted to a system that is heavily weighted to tournament play and games. Every weekend, and in the summer, these kids are walking into a rink to play a tournament. At some point, it’s just another tournament. It impacts the meaning.”
Specific to the girls’ game, Brodt-Brown has an easy fix to strengthen the community-based model: “There shouldn’t be girls JV hockey,” she said. “You make that one change to eliminate junior varsity, and you’ll see the U14/U15 level get really good again. As well as U19 for the girls who can’t make varsity. And it would end the constant pull to bring up these 7th and 8th graders before they’re ready.”
(Left) Chorkse is proud parent to a couple high school players and a peewee in Edina. (Right) Brodt-Brown has two Roseville mites.
One thing Chorske and Brodt-Brown agree hasn’t changed much through the years is the universal reverence for the State Tournament. As a kid, Chorske remembers staying home from school to watch the tournament. It got to be such a known thing at school that one of his teachers told him if he was going to skip school to watch the state tournament, he had to bring a report about it on Monday. Which he did. “The state tournament is still a really great, strong tradition,“ said Chorske.
Both Chorske and Brodt-Brown would like to see fewer early departures from the high-school ranks. “I’d like not to see them go,” said Chorske. “Maturity and skill are often misconstrued,” added Brodt-Brown. “Some of these kids are skilled enough to leave, but are they mature enough to leave?”
(Left) While Southwest never made it to St. Paul, Chorske’s daughter Hannah won State. (Right) Brodt-Brown took her Raiders to the title in 1996.
Both Brodt-Brown and Chorske agreed there is far too much analysis in the game today. “As a parent, you should be there to support, not to analyze” said Brodt-Brown. Added Chorske, “It’s funny in that I’m actually paid to analyze hockey [by the Minnesota Wild], and even I know it’s not what these kids want. Because no matter what you tell them, there are only two possible responses. It’s either ‘I know!’ or ‘Nothing is ever good enough!’ ”
Instead, Brodt-Brown believes kids should grade themselves. “Teach your kids to be self- evaluators. Ask them how they think they did each day—was it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down?”
There’s probably a version of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if. . .” to help hockey parents determine if they’re “chasing it.” Chorske had some obvious examples: “If you find your family moving so your kid can play on a different hockey team . . .you might be chasing it. If you’re starting a team or league, the genesis of which is finding the best spot for your kid and two or three of his or her best friends . . .you might be chasing it.”
Early commitments add to the phenomenon of chasing it, said Chorske. “It’s human nature. The carrot is gone. And saying that, I’m the father of a kid who committed at 15. I’ve lived through it.” Whether it’s early departures or early commitments, Chorske worries that once these kids know where they’re going, there is too much temptation to constantly be accelerating their development. And unfortunately, it’s fast-forwarding not only some of the best parts of the hockey experience, but their lives as well. “Everyone has an athletic ceiling,” added Brodt-Brown.
Now one thing’s for sure. We’ve come a long way from Herb Brooks handing Tom Chorske that first annual Mr. Hockey trophy, and young Winny Brodt crashing the Mr. Hockey banquet to accept the first Ms. Hockey hardware. “It’s a lot different,” was the first sentence out of both Chorske and Brodt-Brown’s mouths between bites of breakfast at Mickey’s. With any luck, understanding the themes they outlined will help keep the best parts of our beautiful game the same. If that doesn’t work, we can always just spray some Drakkar Noir in the air and flip through old yearbooks!