Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk and Dustin Byfuglien. No, this isn’t a preview of the Team USA roster for this fall’s World Cup of Hockey, but rather just a handful of players taking part in Da Beauty League back in Minnesota.
Established in the fall of 2015, Da Beauty League is a six-team summer league featuring NHLers and other professionals — mostly from the state of Minnesota — playing four-on-four at Braemar Arena in Edina, a Minneapolis suburb.
McDonagh, a captain of Team Tradition that features Stepan, Brady Skjei and Steven Fogarty, said the League was created by several agents at Octagon Hockey after the success of a similar league in Boston.
“They figured there’s so many pro players and college players in the [Minneapolis] metro area and enough guys fans would want to see,” McDonagh said Thursday. “It’s been pretty cool to be a part of and to see the turnout from the fans.”
McDonagh said he felt the players might have underestimated the attention the league has generated via social media and local feature stories on the games.
“I don’t think the players realized how big it would catch on here,” said McDonagh, who grew up about 30 minutes away in St. Paul. “You look up in the stands and it’s pretty full for a 6 o’clock four-on-four game.”
In addition to those four Minnesota-natives, 2014 draft pick Tyler Nanne are also taking part in the League.
While the intensity may not be NHL-level, the players said it’s still a strong proving ground to see where you stack up at this point in the offseason.
“Obviously guys aren’t going as hard as they would in the season, but playing against the top guys in the league, you have to figure out ways to get around them,” said Skjei, who as of July 29 was third in the league in scoring with 14 points in six games. “It’s a good learning experience.”
McDonagh, who scored a pair of goals Thursday night in Tradition’s 6-5 shootout against RBC Wealth Management, said he was impressed with Skjei’s offensive production, which is making his decision to take the rookie in the second-round a smart one.
“We’ve been working out together,” McDonagh said of Skjei. “He’s preparing really well and working really hard.”
Fogarty, who finished his career at the University of Notre Dame last spring before joining the Hartford Wolf Pack, is hoping to make an impression at training camp in September, and views this as a barometer for how he stacks up against NHL players, albeit in a recreational setting.
“For me, it’s good to see where I match up with them,” said Fogarty, who played at Braemar during his high school days at Edina High School. Despite it being four-on-four, “you can still see the skill level.”
The league is sponsored by local businesses and also benefits the United Heroes League, formerly known as Defending the Blueline, which provides free equipment, camps special events and financial assistances for registration fees and other costs for military families to take part in sports.
“Whenever you can give back for something, you should take part in it,” said Skjei, who grew up 15 minutes from the rink in Lakeville.
"We are beyond grateful for Da Beauty League's and the New York Rangers' genergous donation to United Heroes League," said Shane Hudella, President and Founder of United Heroes League. "This donation will directly increase the number of military kids we are able to start in hockey this upcoming season. Steven Fogarty, Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and Derek Stepan are a great group of Minnesota guys helping deserving military families and we all cannot thank you enough for your generosity."
The charitable arm of the league is something that hits close to home for Fogarty, who comes from a military background that includes both his father and brother being in the Navy, with his father rising to the rank of Admiral.
This past year at Notre Dame, Fogarty helped to create a partnership between the school and Defending the Blue Line, which culminated in a military night on Jan. 29 against Boston College, with the proceeds of special warmup jerseys being auctioned off.
“The military will always have a special place in my heart and my family,” Fogarty said.
While there are still a few weeks left in the regular season that ends Aug. 4, followed by the playoffs, it seems the early returns are overly positive. In fact, the players are ready to keep it going in 2017.
“Oh yeah,” Skjei said when asked if he’d be into a second season. “For sure. I love it.”