Growing Up Gopher

The Snuggerud Family Tree Has Its Roots Firmly Planted In Minnesota Ice
By: 
Tom Worgo

Jimmy Snuggerud never had a problem with his skating. He wasn’t one of those players in Peewees, Bantams or on his high school team pegged as someone who needed to work on that area of his game.

His father Dave was of a different opinion. That’s why he convinced his son to work with a skating coach. And just not any coach: Jack Blatherwick, a fellow Minnesota native, who helped train Herb Brooks’ legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic team.

It just so happens Blatherwick also coached Dave in the 1980s when he played for the University of Minnesota. Dave would play on the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team and spend six seasons in the NHL.

Jimmy’s grandfather, James Westby, started the family’s storied hockey history as a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team.

Starting in the fall, the youngest Snuggerud will add to the family tradition when he slips on maroon and gold hockey jersey for the Gophers.  
“If you asked his grandfather, he wanted Jimmy to go to Minnesota, yesterday,” Dave said. “I just wanted him to look at other schools besides Minnesota. He’s only going to make the name better.

“We always felt the branding of Snuggerud is something of importance. It’s more a sense of pride and character that way.”

It was also a sense of family pride to hear the Snuggerud name called out at the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal when the St. Louis Blues took the 6-foot-2, 188-pounder with the 23rd pick of the first round.

Snuggerud was one of six players from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program to be selected in the first round, and one of 14 overall.
As it turned out, Blatherwick’s coaching proved more valuable than the 18-year-old right-winger imagined.

“Jack is around 80 years old and I’ve been with him four or five years,” Snuggerud said. “I really made a jump in my game with his help. I became a faster north-south skater.”

Growing up, Snuggerud saw more than his share of games. His father and grandfather are long-time Minnesota season ticket holders. But it was the family tradition that ultimately swayed him to stick close to home.

“It’s cool to know the history of him and to know my grandpa played there also,” he said. “I would dream of being a Gopher. But once it came to making a college decision, it wasn’t always Minnesota.”

The highlight of the younger Snuggerud’s hockey career was getting drafted. A close second was getting to carry on the family tradition at Minnesota.

“I think it’s cool to keep the hockey blood driving,” Jimmy said. “Hopefully, one day my kids will go there, too. But I’m not going to force them. My dad didn’t force me. Every time I step on the ice it will mean that much to my grandpa and my dad to have them watching me and know that they have played there before.”

The youngster understands the pride and the pressure of skating in front of friends and family when he slips on a Minnesota jersey.

“He absolutely loves to watch me play,” Snuggerud said of his grandfather, who played at the U in the early and mid-1960s.

“He is 86 and still playing. He just leads by example for me by how much you can love the game for that much of your life. He shows how to live your life. I hope to be doing that, too. What I have taken from him: I want to play as long as I can. I guess you can say I want to play hockey until I die.”

Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko, who is in his fifth season with the Gophers, gets excited talking about his latest recruiting class, especially his new right winger. He raves about the intensity level of his play, not to mention his solid two-way game, eye-catching shot and hockey IQ.

“The biggest thing is his motor and work ethic,” Motzko said. “Of course, he has the skill and talent, but what a rare combination when you get a kid that young that plays so bloody hard shift after shift. He makes players around him better because of the way he grinds and the hardness in his game.”

Snuggerud will be heading off to college with a big dose of confidence. He shined at the Blues’ four-day minicamp in mid-July and for the U.S. National Under-17 (15 goals, 17 assists in 32 games) and Under-18 teams (24, 39, 63).

U18 head coach Adam Nightingale said the lanky forward was the U.S. Development Program’s most improved player over the past two seasons as he gained about 25 pounds.

“He came in a boy and left a man,” explained Nightingale, who is now the head coach at Michigan State.

“He has a unique drive to A be world-class player. He can really strip guys of the puck. He has world-class shot and release. When you combine all that, he is a really good player. He has a unique release and the puck really explodes off his stick.”

It may still be a few years before another Snuggerud strides onto NHL ice, but he is ready to show that he is ready to make an impact at Minnesota.

“I would say he’ll spend two years in college and I tend to be conservative,” said Kyle Woodlief, owner of the Redline Report, an independent scouting service on draft prospects.

“He has all the pro capabilities. St. Louis drafted him at 23. We had him ranked at 16. I think that’s really good value.”

Tom Worgo is a freelance writer based in Annapolis, Md.

 

Issue: 
2022-08

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