Charlie Burggraf Named Coach of Historic Minnesota PWHL Women's Hockey Team by GM Natalie Darwitz - Both Gophers Connections


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Mar 5, 2023
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Natalie Darwitz, General Manager of Minnesota PWHL pro women's hockey team, has named Charlie Burggraf the new head coach of the historic new Minnesota PWHL women's pro hockey team.

Natalie Darwitz and Charlie Burggraf

Why Coach Charlie Burggraf was a Great Hire
The hire reflects both Darwitz and Burggraf's deep roots with Minnesota hockey and Upper Midwest hockey. He brings 16 years of coaching experience in the Upper Midwest and many years of hockey success in the Upper Midwest. Darwitz appears to be reaching out to the broader Upper Midwest hockey community with this hire.

For background, Darwitz is a Minnesotan who could have landed prominent head coaching roles in other states but wants to stay in Minnesota because of her passion for Minnesota hockey and living here. She came up the coaching ranks as an assistant coach at Eagan High School and then Lakeville. Darwitz then turned around a bad Hamline women's hockey program to the Frozen Four before becoming an assistant coach for University of Minnesota Gophers.

Before that, Darwitz was a Hall of Fame hockey player for Minnesota Gophers and Team USA, one of the best to ever play the game. She helped lead the Gophers to back to back national championships and broke the record for points in a season. She played youth hockey for Eagan (in the Twin Cities area). Her dad was a hockey coach.

Enter Charlie Burggraf as the new head coach of PWHL Minnesota.

Charlie Burggraf played youth hockey in Roseau, Northern Minnesota near the Canadian border, as a team captain and standout player. Roseau has a long tradition of hockey excellence. Then he played college hockey for North Dakota as a center and a captain. He became one of the school's all-time leading scorers, won the WCHA championship, and played for the national championship. He still holds the school record for most shorthanded goals in a single game. He played pro hockey in Europe for two seasons.

Burggraf has 16 years of coaching experience. That includes two seasons as an assistant coach at University of Minnesota where he was Darwitz's coach. Darwitz experienced his coaching first-hand. Burggraf then coached at Bethel for 12 seasons as the women's hockey and men's hockey coach. He started as a grad assistant at North Dakota and at Fergus Falls High School.

While an assistant coach at Minnesota, the Gophers won a national championship. While a graduate assistant coach at North Dakota, ND won a national championship.

Burggraf is unique in that he has ties to Northern Minnesota hockey (Roseau and Fergus Falls), Upper Midwest hockey (North Dakota), University of Minnesota "Big Time" WCHA hockey with Olympian players, DIII hockey (Bethel), youth-college-pro hockey, and both women's and men's hockey. He's a bit of an old-timer with a lot of hockey experience.

Why the Burggraf Hire Will Raise Eyebrows
Unlike the other PWHL coaching hires, Burggraf doesn't have Olympics coaching on his resume. He's not a blockbuster international-reputation hire. In fact, probably nobody in Europe knew about him before this hire.

In contrast, Ottawa's new coach Carla MacLeod is the coach of the Czech women's national team she has built into an international contender. Toronto's coach Troy Ryan is coach of Canada's women's national team.

The Verdict
Everyone can think for themselves about the wisdom of Natalie Darwitz's decision to hire Charlie Burggraf. Either way, it was a bold decision by Darwitz that clearly reflects Darwitz's opinions and her leadership. The competition in the PWHL will be fierce. We will find out how this turns out.

Grade: A - the Boss

The historic first-ever draft will be held Monday. I will post a follow-up to that. Minnesota Gophers' center Taylor Heise is projected to be the #1 overall pick.

Taylor Heise of the Minnesota Gophers

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Two round mock draft show at this link. Taylor Heise goes #1 overall.

Tessa Bonhomme (Team Canada, Ohio State) on Heise to #1:

"I don't think anyone's going to refute this pick. From Lake City, Minnesota, the Patty Katzmeyer Award winner in 2022, the 23 year old Taylor Heise. An unbelievable talent up front. I think Natalie Darwitz sees a lot of herself in her in terms of point production and the way she sees the game. I played against Darwitz who was a nightmare to play against. I've watched Taylor Heise play, she seems like a nightmare to play against sometimes too. Undoubtedly this is the top prospect in the draft -- and Minnesota connection too since she was a Gopher."

Cheryl Pounder (Team Canada, Laurier):

"She was a Gopher, and one of her coaches was Natalie Darwitz. She's a captain at Minnesota coming off a Patty Katzmeyer -- the best player in college NCAA hockey. She knows what she can do both on and off the ice. This is a no-brainer."


Each team already signed three star free agent players, and now comes the first ever pro women's hockey draft where all the stars are in the league, approaching an NHL-caliber league. There have been other women's hockey leagues that were good and successful but not like this.


The Hockey Guy talks PWHL and the challenges of launching this ambitious league so it succeeds. A good watch for hockey fans.


Two Minnesota Gophers to be drafted high are forwards Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Heise.

I've already mentioned Heise who will likely be the #1 overall draft pick, so here are some factoids now about Zumwinkle.

-Grace Zumwinkle was named a top-3 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2021 and a top-10 finalist in 2023. That's the best player in all NCAA hockey.

2021 Patty Kazmaier Award Bio

2023 Patty Kazmaier Award Bio

Zumwinkle finished the 2022-23 season with the second most point per game in the WCHA, second only to teammate Taylor Heise, and 6th most in all the NCAA.



A forward, she's unique in that she does everything well including being able to play defense. Assists, skating, scores, defense...

She concluded her career at University of Minnesota Gophers with 201 career points.

Zumwinkle was one of the best college players of her era.


In another topic, I thought this article today about the future of women's pro hockey was interesting:

What does the new PWHL mean for women's hockey? A guide for those who aren't fans — yet​

Monday is shaping up to be a historic day in Canadian hockey with the first draft of the brand new Professional Women's Hockey League.

"We have never seen more excitement and demand for women's sports, and through the launch of this league, the top women's players in the world will have the opportunity to reach even greater heights," said Jayna Hefford, PWHL senior vice-president of hockey operations, at the time.

Interest in the women's game is high.

Last year, 2.7 million people in Canada watched the the Olympic gold medal game in Beijing between the Canadian and U.S. women. And The Athletic reported that the game averaged 3.54 million viewers in the U.S., more than any NHL game televised in the U.S. in the 2021-22 season.

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There's a lot of variation in opinions about draft value order and who will be drafted where. The Hockey News and The Athletic published the leading mock drafts as a starting point.

For example, this writer following Ottawa has a different take:

One of the leading dynamics with Minnesota is when they draft a goaltender. The draft is deep in goaltenders. And yet I think they can't wait too long, probably round 4-5, and then the goalie is being drafted a bit lower than place value. I would say Swedish/UMD star goaltender Emma Soderberg is an unknown to watch. I could see her in New York or Minnesota. She had signed a pro contract with Connecticut (New York) before the PWHL was announced. Minnesota can choose from other goaltenders with local ties. We will see.

I sense that local players will play for the nearby team, but not necessarily. Teams want to win and will look first to build rosters that win.

Will all Minnesota draft picks be players not from Canada? Likely, but not necessarily.

Case Point: New York signed free agent Micah Zandee-Hart, a Canadian who played for Cornell (in New York state) and from British Columbia that is not near the three Canadian team cities.

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