Right after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, Winny Brodt Brown’s cellphone began to buzz.
“It’s actually funny because there were a few texts that came in right after he had won and they were like, you’re the Tom Brady of women’s hockey!” says Brodt Brown. “For me, it’s an honor to be in the same sentence as Tom Brady, but I just laughed.”
The comparison, while obviously good natured, really wasn’t that much of a stretch.
Tom Brady is, at 43, about to become the oldest man to ever play in a Super Bowl. Just weeks shy of turning 43 herself (Yes, she’s OK with me sharing her age!), Winny Brodt Brown, who plays defense for the Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League, was eyeing another league championship herself, until the NWHL shut down their bubble in Lake Placid, New York, and their condensed season, due to Coronavirus concerns.
The shutdown is especially painful for Brodt Brown because the Whitecaps, who won the NWHL’s Isobel Cup in 2018-19, were just a game away from repeating as champs last March when the NWHL shutdown play then too, denying them the opportunity to defend their title.
“Last season we played every game except the championship game against Boston,” says Brodt Brown. I just can’t keep things where they’re not finished so, I was like, I’ll give it one more season just because I knew it would be a shorter season but it’s just one of those things where… it’s tough for me to quit on things.”
No one would ever accuse Winny Brodt Brown of being a quitter. Skating almost as soon as she could walk, Brodt Brown grew-up playing against boys because there were no girls teams for her to play on. When high school hockey for girls finally became a thing in Minnesota, Brodt Brown was the first-ever winner of the Ms. Hockey Award, which is given annually to the state’s most outstanding player.
To play collegiately in the late 90’s women had to go east so Brodt Brown headed to New Hampshire where as a Freshman she led the Wildcats to the AWCHA women’s ice hockey national championship, picking up the most valuable player award in the process.
When the University of Minnesota added women’s ice hockey the next season, Brodt Brown came back home so she could realize a lifelong dream of being a Golden Gopher. Winny recording multiple point games in nine of the last twelve games of the 1999-2000 season. The Gophers won the AWCHA National Championship, Brodt Brown’s second in three years, at a time when some of her current NWHL teammates weren’t even out of diapers.
Says Brodt Brown, “I was talking with Haley Mack, one of my teammates, on a bus ride from the airport to Lake Placid and I was like, ‘Yeah, I won my first championship at the University of New Hampshire when you were being born,’ (1998) and she was like, What!?”
This is where the comparisons between Brady and Brodt Brown end for the moment. Because while Tom Brady was developing from NFL long-shot into a six-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, Brodt Brown, who had experienced more success as an athlete than Brady ever had through their college years, didn’t have the option of playing professionally.
There were stints with team USA in world Cup competitions, but the Olympics always seemed to elude her. Winny’s father, Jack Brodt, was one of the founders of the Whitecaps. He was trying to give Winny and others like her the option to play professionally, but the NHL had no appetite for supporting women’s hockey. Setbacks and a sad, unfair reality that only served to deepen Brodt Brown’s love for the game.
Says Winny, “Jonna Curtis, one of my teammates said, “I can see why you still play because it’s so fun. One day I’m really going to miss this game.” And I said, that’s what it’s really all about. it’s not just what happens on the ice it’s the locker room and the road trips and just everything around the games that makes hockey so fun.”
So, while Tom Brady was making millions of dollars annually as a player, with another healthy revenue stream from endorsements, Brodt Brown was teaching boys and girls how to figure skate and play the game of hockey. While Tom Brady had access to personal trainers Winny was teaching group fitness classes. And while Brady employed a team of experts to help him transform his body for peak performance, Brodt Brown was becoming a mother. Not once but twice. Skating, coaching and teaching through both pregnancies.
“I’m spending two, two and-a-half hours on the ice with mites getting edgework and all that while the little kids learning how to play,” says Winny. “I tell people It’s actually more work to coach 2-3 hours of Mites with 35-40 of them on the ice than it is to go and play an hour-and-a-half hockey game, and I’m not kidding!
And there, says Brodt Brown, is one of the secrets to her longevity. She credits her parents for exposing her to multiple sports and encouraging her to diversify, including the figure skating lessons she took every year up until college.
“I think my figure skating background is a big reason why I can still play. Both my boys figure skate because that’s some of the best training there is. The edge work and slowing it down and actually being efficient. If you don’t learn the basics it’s really hard to learn that when you get older.
So, while the virus is denying Brodt Brown the opportunity to compete for a championship for the second year in-a-row and her future as a professional is uncertain, don’t be surprised to see her, like Tom Brady, back in uniform next fall. Her dad is the team’s GM and Co-Head Coach, while one sister, 37-year old Chelsea Brodt Rosenthal (37) is not only her next door neighbor, but she’s also a teammate. And it doesn’t stop there.
“My older sister Carrie has two girls playing at the University of Minnesota, and my older brother’s daughter played at St. Cloud State,” says Brodt Brown. “It’s kind of a lifestyle.”
A lifestyle that Winny and her husband Justin have happily passed on to their sons Weston, age 7, and Branson, age 6. And while Brady will spend the bulk of Super Bowl week with his teammates rather than his family, preparing for the big game, Justin was doing double duty with the boys back in Minnesota, allowing Winy a rare moment to just focus on hockey. At least until the virus shut that down again.
“It was actually kind of fun because usually when I’m at home I don’t have time to sit and watch hockey,” says Winny. “I’ve been able to stay at the rink and watch the other teams play which kind of brings you back to when you were a kid and you would kind of scout all the other teams, so it’s been fun.”
So, when Tom tries for an unprecedented 7th Super Bowl ring as the oldest player to ever do so, Winny will be back in Minnesota, cheering him on.
“People are like, can he still do it? And he loves the game, he knows the game, he knows he can still play it, he takes care of himself and he’s showing the whole world that he’s still the best,” says Winny. “And it’s cool for his teammates because they say he’s a great guy in the locker room which just means that he loves the game, you know? That’s pretty cool.”
Sounds like she could have been talking about herself. And what about next year, you ask? Turns out that age thing? It really is just a number.
“I want my kids to see that you can play this sport as long as you want to play it because that’s what my parents taught me,” says Winny. And my mom is still playing to this day and she’s 74.