STILLWATER -- Hockey, as any girl or woman who's ever played it will tell you, is a game that helps kids of all ages and genders develop lifelong friendships and learn valuable life lessons.
But what happens after the last puck drops?
That's a question the Minnesota Whitecaps have tried to answer, because besides international competition and the four-team National Women's Hockey League out east, there aren't many options out there for women who want to keep playing hockey after college.
"We're an elite, post-college women's hockey team," said Laura Halldorson, the legendary former coach of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers who led the team to three national titles. "It's a very unique and uncommon collection of players from a wide variety of ages and even hockey experience. But they all want to continue playing after college."
The team was founded in 2004 as a member of the Western Women's Hockey League. The Whitecaps spent seven seasons in the WWHL, winning the league's championship Clarkson Cup in 2010. After the league folded, Minnesota found itself without a league to call home, a problem Halldorson has undertaken and efforted to solve.
The absence of a league to which the Whitecaps can belong has given them some eye-catching matchups. This season, they've played Division I college programs, but perhaps the most notable and surprising game on their schedule was their scrimmage on the day before Hockey Day Minnesota against the Korean National Team.
Surprising to an outside observer, sure, but not to Whitecaps forward Hannah Brandt.
Brandt, whose adopted sister Marissa plays for Korea, was excited for the chance to face the fledgling team, which is spending a couple weeks in the United States to train in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"It's pretty cool getting to play against her," Brandt said. "She was adopted at six months, and [the Korean team] reached out to her a year ago. She'd just graduated from Gustavus ... and they were like, 'Hey, would you want to come out here?' She had no idea.
"At first she thought it was maybe spam or something, but she realized it was real, and since the Olympics are in South Korea, they were going to have a team."
The Whitecaps gave up a goal on the game's first shot Friday night, but it was Minnesota's Brandt who scored twice to propel the Whitecaps to a 3-1 victory.
It was one game in a patchwork season full of formidable opponents, but this contest was special for its place within the Hockey Day Minnesota festivities. As a Minnesota native who skated four seasons for the University of Minnesota, Brandt said that the team's Hockey Day game underscored the opportunities the Whitecaps offer, even without a league.
"I got to play an outdoor game at the University of Minnesota, which was cool, but this was just a totally different feel," Brandt said. "Like small town, high school ... I thought it was pretty neat, and a lot of people came out, so it was a lot of fun for all of us."