Darwitz would eventually become one of the greatest players in United States women's hockey history. But as a first-grade student at Pinewood Elementary in Eagan, Minnesota, Darwitz was an adept juggler, quickly moving from scarves and balls to juggling fire and knives, performing at circus events and senior living facilities.
Considering that, it's no wonder that Darwitz easily blended in when, as a 15-year-old forward, she was selected to the U.S. Women's National Team in 1999. After handling sharp and flammable objects, what's so tough about joining a group of women who won the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics?
"Picking [fire and knives] up, I know what I'm doing," the 35-year-old Darwitz said. "Probably like when I was 15 and playing hockey with Cammi [Granato]. I'm just doing what I do. There could definitely be a correlation."
Fearlessness and confidence have long been attributes of Darwitz, who will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Nashville on Wednesday. Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, former University of Michigan coach Red Berenson, former NHL referee Paul Stewart and former forward Hago Harrington will also be inducted. Jim Johansson, former assistant executive director of USA Hockey who died Jan. 21, is the posthumous recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Darwitz won silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2010 Vancouver Olympics and bronze at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She had 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 15 games in the Olympics. Her 14 Olympic goals are tied with Katie King for most in U.S. women's history.
She also won three golds (2005, 2008 and 2009) and five silvers (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2007) at the IIHF World Championships. Darwitz was captain of the national team from 2007-10.
Darwitz played 99 games in three seasons (2002-05) at the University of Minnesota, where she is the all-time leader in points per game (2.48). Darwitz is second in assists (144) behind forward Hannah Brandt (170) and third in points (246) behind Brandt (285) and forward Amanda Kessel (248).
"That's where she belongs," former Minnesota women's coach Laura Hallordson said of Darwitz's induction. "She's been one of the greatest female hockey players ever, really. She's still in the game, giving back with coaching. It's very well deserved, in my opinion."
As the youngest player ever selected to a national team, Darwitz was quiet in the locker room. But that's just her personality -- "I'm still pretty introverted," she said. On the ice, Darwitz was in her element.
"One I got that first practice under my belt, I was like, "Woo, OK, this is my common ground,'" Darwitz said. "If I could get on the ice, that's how I got out of my shell, you know? Everybody was on a level playing field playing hockey. That's where you show you can do it."
Granato, who won gold in 1998 at the Nagano Games and silver in 2002 at Salt Lake City with the U.S. team, noticed Darwitz's on-ice command immediately.
"You're meeting her and thinking, 'Wow, she's so young and quiet.' Then she gets on the ice and she's just this little superstar," Granato said. "I remember thinking of her, just the way she skated. Her skating was her biggest asset, but she had so much explosiveness down the ice. And the way she handled the puck while she was skating was the most impressive. I've said this before, but her ability to skate and shoot the puck at full speed was something. I've seen NHLers do that, but I hadn't seen it at any other level. She was just an amazing player."
Video: Darwitz on U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction
Darwitz began her collegiate career at Minnesota in the fall of 2002. That transition also went well.
"She wasn't your typical freshman," Hallordson said. "She was a leader from the time she stepped on campus because of the respect from everyone for what she had accomplished [in international hockey] and what she could do on the ice."
Darwitz led the Gophers to the NCAA Division I Women's championship in 2004 and 2005. She finished with a stellar junior year (2004-05), setting an NCAA record for points in a season with 114 (42 goals, 72 assists) in 40 games. She also scored a record nine points (three goals, six assists) in three games and had the game-winning goal with 1:08 remaining in the third period in Minnesota's 4-3 win over Harvard in the 2005 championship game.
Krissy Wendell-Pohl, who played with Darwitz at Minnesota and on the 2002 and 2006 Olympic teams, said Darwitz saw and understood the game faster than other players.
"She had all the skills: an incredible skater, passer and shooter. There wasn't a weakness in her game," Wendell-Pohl said. "She had an inner confidence. It wasn't arrogance at all, just confidence. She wanted to win, and she was going to push everyone else around her to make her better. She was quiet as a person, but her game was impactful."
Darwitz is still having an impact on the game. She became the women's hockey coach at Hamline University in April 2015. Hamline is 8-1 and 5-1 in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic League. At first, Darwitz was hesitant to take the Hamline job. She was expecting her first child, Joseph, who was born in July 2015, and thought work would take too much time away from family. But Darwitz, now a mother of two boys (Zachary was born in May 2017), has found a balance.
"I'm really glad that happened because it allowed me be at home with my boys most of the day, and in the afternoon go to practice for a few hours and do something else I enjoy," Darwitz said. "I got away, I get to be on the ice, then I go home to my kids, who I can't wait to see. I'm a better mom when I can take a few hours away. It's good for them to be around grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends. I'm fortunate to be doing what I'm doing. I feel really blessed. It's going great so far."
Granato said, "She's always been one of the prides of Minnesota. It's a tight-knit hockey community there and her being there, she can always give back to the game. Just her just being involved in hockey, influencing young players, she's very much part of it. She has a good reputation and she's a really solid person. It's nice to see her able to continue that."
Darwitz has always let her actions speak for her. She continues to give back to the game, but the impact she's already made is immeasurable.
"With Natalie, people talk about all the accolades and stats and incredible player she was. But knowing her since she was a kid, she's a great person, a loyal fan, happy being part of a team and doing whatever she can for the team," Wendell-Poll said. "It's cool to see her get an individual award, because she's a team person."