The distance from Duluth, Minnesota to Tempe, Arizona is 1,785.6 miles. The trip between both cities might be long, and the temperatures might be drastically different, but for Katie McGovern, both places hold something special: hockey.
McGovern is in her first year as an assistant coach for the ASU women’s hockey team. Last year, she was one of the leading goal scorers for one of the premiere college hockey programs in the entire nation, University of Minnesota Duluth.
The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs women’s hockey program competes in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). The program is home to five NCAA Division I national champions, and the Bulldogs have made seven NCAA Frozen Four appearances.
For McGovern, Duluth is a place where she was able to carry out her dream of being a Division I hockey player.
“There was no pro team there, so all the hype was about us, the Bulldogs,” McGovern said. “Everywhere you went, you saw UMD apparel ... You go into the grocery store or going to the bank and wearing UMD hockey stuff, and people asking if you were on the team and just telling them about it. They knew who you were, and it was just awesome.”
This energy and enthusiasm around the sport of hockey is what McGovern hopes to bring to the ASU women’s hockey program, which is only in its second season as an American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I team.
Last January, while McGovern was still playing for the Bulldogs, she said that she hoped to return to her home state of Arizona to grow the sport of hockey. Then in June, ASU head coach and McGovern’s former U-16 club hockey teammate Lindsey Ellis decided to add her to the Sun Devils coaching staff.
McGovern is a Scottsdale native, and she was the first player in Minnesota Duluth history to ever come out of Arizona. In McGovern’s senior season, she tallied 17 assists and 17 goals, including four game-winning goals for the Bulldogs.
She was tied for second on the team in goals, and she was named an All-WCHA performer in the 2016-17 season.
“For her (McGovern) to be able to bring back her experiences to us as a new program, and to be able to pass that along to the girls ... that’s really important,” Ellis said. “Being able to start a culture for the team from the very beginning is really important, so having her here helps with that.”
ASU’s players have taken notice to McGovern as well. Senior captain and forward Amber Galles has embraced what McGovern has brought to the team thus far.
“She does know the game very well,” Galles said. “She has had that top level, NCAA (Division I) coaching, so she is then able to take that advice that she got from them, and bring her take down to Arizona and our ACHA (Division I) level, which is very helpful.”
This season will be McGovern’s first time as a coach rather than a player. At Minnesota Duluth, McGovern had a full roster of teammates, but at ASU, she noticed a big difference in the number of players going from the NCAA to the ACHA spectrum.
“I think the biggest difference is that we just have way less girls,” McGovern said. “Trying to get them in really good shape conditioning since we have less players ... we are just going over the fundamentals right now, but I think we have a lot of potential with this team so it’s really exciting.
Earlier this season, McGovern described what she's seen in this year’s team so far.
“The team is looking pretty fast,” McGovern said. “The intensity has been really great, and the girls are eager to get the games rolling ... it’s a good, smart team as well. They are making really good plays out there already.”
Above all, McGovern is out of the cold in Minnesota, and back home in the Valley of the Sun where she grew up playing hockey.
“I can take what I learned from my experience, and just share all of my knowledge and what I went through and learned over the years, and kind of relay it to ASU and share with them my experience,” McGovern said.
McGovern will be behind the bench for the first time this Friday, Sept. 22 when ASU takes on Grand Canyon University at 7:30 p.m.