Natalie Darwitz, perhaps the state’s most celebrated female hockey player, is still making headlines.
On June 6 it was announced Darwitz was leaving the University of Minnesota Gopher Women’s program after two years serving as an associate head coach with Brad Frost. It took only a couple of days for Darwtiz’s name to resurface when it was announced that she and Jake Bobrowski were taking over the Hill-Murray girls’ program.
Darwitz and Bobrowski have a history together with both coaching at Hamline University where Darwitz served as the head coach for six years. Bobrowski also served as an assistant girls’ hockey coach at Hill-Murray from 2011-2015. Both have also coached at the University of Minnesota.
Darwitz said she is excited to come full circle and be embedded in the high school hockey community again. She got her coaching career started as an assistant coach for her father, Scott, at Eagan High School. She went on to coach at Lakeville South for four years before joining the college ranks at Hamline where she turned the fledgling program into a perennial contender.
“I love the college level,” she said. “To me, it’s the highest level of women’s hockey. But I also have a huge spot in my heart for high school hockey. High school hockey means so much in this state and to be immersed in that culture again is very exciting.”
Hill-Murray Activities Director John Pohl said Darwitz was at the top of his list when filling the vacant position. He said Darwitz and Bobrowski coming back to the high school ranks serves high school sports and high school hockey well.
“It’s great for Hill-Murray and I think it’s great for high school sports,” he said. “To have people of their quality who can coach at the highest levels to want to coach high school sports says something.”
Pohl said he hopes to see more highly qualified coaches coach at the high school level. For both Darwitz and Bobrowski, the decision wasn’t just about hockey, but about family. Darwitz has two young sons, both involved in hockey and other activities and Bobrowski is a father of eight children, the youngest aged 8.
“This opportunity spoke to me and where I am at in my life,” said Darwitz, 39. “Having two young ones at home, it’s giving me a better schedule. This is a good fit for my family.”
Bobrowski spent much of the past year coaching at Elmira College away from his family. Returning to high school will also allow him to spend more time at home.
“This is an opportunity to get back home,” Bobrowski said. “(Coaching college) was a grind with a lot of travel, and even when you’re not working you’re still working.”
Darwitz said coaching high school athletes is a bit different from coaching college players, but she has experience doing both. She was 79-25-10 in four years as head coach at Lakeville South and led Hamline all the way to the Division III National Championship game.
“In college you are dealing with an age range where they are in the real world and really maturing,” she said. “You can have more in depth conversations. Going back to high school you are coaching seventh and eighth graders as well as upperclassmen. It’s a great age where kids can be molded and guided. They are sponges, not only on the ice but off the ice.”
Darwitz said she plans to use the same philosophy she has at every level of her coaching career, building a strong foundation of trust and making it an enjoyable experience for those involved.
“If you look at our track record, we’re builders,” Darwitz said of her and Bobrowski. “We are about development. We are about building things. It’s about building relationships with the players, making it fun and challenging for them.”
Darwitz said she and Bobrowski are committed to the overall student-athlete and look beyond the ice in terms of development.
“We are going to have fun on the ice and we are going to create principles that not only help in hockey but help in the real world,” she said.
Bobrowski echoes Darwtiz’s comments.
“Players want to know they can trust you,” he said. “If they know we care about them more than as just hockey players, that will translate into success on the ice. They want to play, be heard, want to learn and they want to get better.”
Darwitz and Bobrowski recently had a meet and greet with players and families and are excited to get on the ice with them in the coming days. Their goal is to provide a positive and fun culture where the students can grow as players and as people.
“We don’t make hires based on who can win championships,” said Pohl. “We hire coaches who can give our students the best experience they can. Students want to be treated well and have a positive experience and I have no doubt that Natalie and Jake will give our kids a great experience and develop them as hockey players and as people.”
Darwitz and Bobrowski are excited to get to work. In the past two seasons, the team has lost in the section final to Gentry Academy. Gentry Academy went on to win the Class AA state championship last season.
“It won’t happen overnight,” said Darwitz. “We’re a young team. Are we going to have fun?” Absolutely. Are we going to improve? Absolutely. Can we make Hill-Murray a top team in the state every single season? That is our goal.”