Family connections provided Madeline Wethington a rare hockey opportunity — to illuminate the red light to signal goals scored during a Minnesota Whitecaps National Women's Hockey League game.

Winny Brodt Brown, one of Madeline's two aunts playing on the team, asked Kerry Brodt Wethington, Madeline's mom, about having The Blake School girls' hockey team volunteer for a game.

Though a veteran of three women's world championships and four state tournaments, Wethington felt nervous throughout the Whitecaps' 2-1 victory against Buffalo on Oct. 28.

"It's a lot of pressure, honestly," said Wethington, a defender who signed to play for the Gophers. "I can't do it until the ref points. They made that very clear because otherwise, I could stir up some controversy."

There was no drama in selecting Wethington as the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. She leaves high school hockey with three state championships, 150 career points and a legacy of dominating games at both ends of the rink.

The work Wethington puts in behind the scenes endeared to her teammates and Bears coach Shawn Reid. She led a team that featured six Division I college-committed players and was ranked No. 1 much of the season.

"She's as close to a professional as can be in terms of her approach to being an elite hockey player," Reid said. "She knows what's expected of her and she worked every day to improve."

Wethington grew up surrounded by high-level hockey. Aunts Winny Brodt Brown and Chelsey Brodt Rosenthal skated for the Gophers before joining the Whitecaps. Grandfather Jack Brodt is the pro team's general manager and co-head coach. And her mother was the first women's hockey coach at St. Cloud State.

"When you come from a family that loves to talk hockey on the holidays, I'd say I was nurtured into it," said Madeline, whose younger sister, Audrey, is a junior forward also committed to Minnesota.

Put on skates at 18 months old, Wethington grew into a 5-foot-10 force. The Edina native played both girls' and boys' hockey and won an Under-12 state championship with current Hornet players CC Bowlby, Annie Kuehl and Mallory Uihlein.

She won three gold medals with the U-18 women's national team (2016-18) and was the only high school player chosen for the 2018 U.S. women's Under-22 select team.

All the while, Wethington modeled for her high school teammates what it takes to compete. First one on and off the practice rink every day? Wethington. Pickup hockey after practice? Count her in.

Wethington scored 21 goals and added 32 assists as a senior this season, anchoring an inexperienced defensive corps and leading Blake to the No. 1 ranking in Class 2A. She was the last off the ice after a Section 6 title game loss to rival Edina, waiting at the door to tap her crushed teammates on the glove or shoulder.

Family ties helped her land goal light duties. Wethington earned the rest.

"The word dedication is what comes to mind over and over," said Blake junior forward Addie Burton, who has verbally committed to join Wethington at Minnesota. "The amazing thing about Madeline is when you find someone who has the work ethic she has, the dedication and the pure love for the game, you understand why she's as talented as she is."