One of the best women’s hockey players of all-time stopped by Star Tribune headquarters Tuesday. Natalie Darwitz, a recent inductee to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, did a Q&A with our Women’s Network, and from her well-thought answers, it was easy to see why she has grown into a successful coach.

Darwitz, 35, took over a Hamline women’s program that was 6-17-2 the year before her arrival. Four years later, she led the Pipers in the NCAA Division III championship game, where they were finally stopped in a 4-0 loss to Plattsburgh (N.Y.) State.

In the first moments after that defeat last month, it was tough for Darwitz to dwell on how much progress her program has made. After Tuesday’s session, Puck Drop asked her to think about it again.

“It’s pretty cool to see a quick turnaround like that,” she said. “Did we expect it to happen that fast? I don’t think so. If you would have asked us four years ago, ‘Would you be in a national championship game?’ I probably would have giggled and gone, ‘What?’”

Darwitz still holds state high school scoring records from Eagan. She won two NCAA titles with the Gophers and was a three-time U.S. Olympian before starting her head coaching career at Lakeville South.

When she took over at Hamline, she was recruiting players such as Elk River’s Bre Simon to venerable Oscar Johnson Arena. Now, the Pipers have a state-of-the-art facility at Tria Rink, and Simon is the reigning player of the year heading into her senior season this fall.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Darwitz said of the program’s rise. “I attribute that to a couple things: I’ve got the right staff; I think great people attract other great people. Tria Rink helps immensely because at the end of the day, Hamline’s still a small-market team.

“We’re the Minnesota Twins, and we’re trying to compete with the Yankees of other schools. That’s the reality. What we’re doing as a hockey program is raising that level and putting us on an even playing field.”

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