Nina Rodgers‘ return to Minnesota hockey came after she left Minnesota hockey.
A native of the state, Rodgers left the University of Minnesota following her sophomore season. Her first year at Boston University, she put up a career-high 31 points, playing on a line with future Boston Pride forward Mary Parker and Team Canada forward Victoria Bach.
Going into her fourth season in the NWHL, and her third with her hometown Whitecaps, she’s trying to channel the same energy as that first year with the Terriers.
“I look back to my whole career at BU and I just want to continue to build off of that,” said Rodgers. “I was having fun and I was doing well, and that’s all you can ask for. I want to keep playing free and being me, because that’s when I do my best.”
The 25-year-old Rodgers began her NWHL career with Connecticut right out of school, where she posted four points in 15 games. The next season, she signed with Minnesota, making a return to her home state.
In a more limited role, she added four points in seven games. This season, though, in a condensed schedule she began to flourish, with four points in four regular season games and three points in the playoffs.
“The biggest reason I was able to come back to Minnesota in the first place was after BU, I could still be the same Nina,” she said. “I was confident coming back because of the choice I had to go to BU, and who I became while I was out there. It’s nerve wracking coming to your home and everything but I knew this was where life was taking me.”
Rodgers had been a part of two national championship teams with the Golden Gophers, but said it wasn’t the right fit. Her two years at BU helped model the kind of player she wanted to be, and she’s tried to carry that over to the NWHL.
Didn't appreciate how fantastic of a play this was by Nina Rodgers in the Isobel Cup Semifinal. Watch her chip the puck past Marchin and then sauce the pass over the sliding defender to Richards who bangs home her own rebound. Dirty.https://t.co/jhcRkVfei6
— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) March 28, 2021
The Whitecaps have to be glad it did. She became an integral part of the offense as they went to their third consecutive Isobel Cup, and while they lost to the Boston Pride, were in the game until the end.
Boston University head coach Brian Durocher brought Rodgers to the Terriers after her sophomore season in Minnesota, and he saw something in her right away. That’s when she began to flourish, and begin her journey to the NWHL.
“She had a chip on her shoulder when she came here,” he said. “She wanted to identify herself in the hockey world again. She was a kid who played at a really high level and was on a really talented Minnesota team but was outside of the key roles. We wanted the chance to give her those roles, and she scored in the low 30s her first year here.”
Rodgers dealt with some injuries, as the entire BU roster did, in her senior year in 2017-18 season, when she scored just six goals in 28 games. She rebounded and went on to join the Whale that fall.
Even while she was working to get back on the ice as a senior, Rodgers said she was “having fun” off the ice learning with BU, and it set her on the path forward to eventually make her way back to Minnesota.
“She’s scored goals in every league she’s been in,” said Durocher. “That’s always going to be the calling card for her. She’s always been a kid who plays to her strengths, she’s got really good hands and shoots extremely well. She’s going to always use those skills.”
Her third season in the NWHL was a weird one for everyone, with the Lake Placid regular season being cut off due to Covid outbreaks, then the playoffs in Boston. Rodgers made the most of her ice time, though, and seems like she’s on the verge of breaking out as one of the next stars of the NWHL.
The Whitecaps have always had tremendous offensive players. Rodgers, it seems, is that next player up.
“I got more opportunities to play,” she said. “Luckily, I made something happen with those opportunities.”