The NCAA’s new recruiting rules are bringing some sanity and some patience back to the process of finding college hockey’s future stars. Where we used to see 14-year-olds announcing their college commitments, now players cannot receive official offers until they are headed into their junior year of high school.
There is a bit of irony in the fact that the first commitment the Minnesota Gophers have gotten from a rising junior -- defenseman Sam Rinzel -- comes from a player whose development has come as a result of his patience and willingness to work and grow his game.
Rinzel, who turned 17 in June, announced his commitment to the Gophers after catching the eye of their coaches not only at Chaska High School, but also while skating for Team USA at a camp in New York and at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in the Czech Republic earlier this month. Blessed with physical tools, at 6-foot-4 and 181 pounds officially, Rinzel’s on-ice success has come from his willingness to work and improve, his coaches say.
“He was putting the time in during school days. He listened and he was patient,” said former Chaska coach Dave Snuggerud, himself a former Gopher. “He wasn’t worried about when he’d be contacted, he just had the right way of thinking, knowing that if he got better at his position, with skating and skills, that would come. He’s got a great attitude and Bob (Motzko) took notice of him when Sam had a good (USA Hockey) camp out in New York.”
Rinzel will be the fourth, and latest kid in his family to play college sports at a high level. His oldest brother was a lacrosse player at Stevenson and is an athletic trainer now. His sister is a goalie at Union. His other brother is a catcher at Missouri. And now Sam will be a Gopher, thanks in part to a lot of hard work with a former Fighting Hawk. Nick Mattson, another defenseman from Chaska, played in two Frozen Fours for North Dakota, and was one of Rinzel’s most influential coaches.
“His skating is very, very good and it just keeps getting better, so I think the sky’s the limit for him,” said Mattson, who has worked with Rinzel at Breakaway Academy, before school in small groups. “He’s really good at taking away time and space from forwards and having really tight gaps, so he’s going to be really effective defensively.”
I am proud and honored to announce my commitment to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota. I would like to thank my family, friends, and coaches for helping me get to this point in my career. #GoGophs〽️ pic.twitter.com/t7vCQZ1MmJ— Sam Rinzel (@RinzelSam) August 13, 2021
For Rinzel, the opportunity to play for a team he’s watched since childhood, close to home, and be the latest part of what is becoming a Chaska pipeline to the U of M was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Snuggerud’s son Jimmy is also committed to the Gophers, and former Chaska defenseman Mike Koster was a freshman on the Gophers blue line last season.
“I loved the way they run the program, the facilities, the coaching staff element, and ever since I was little it was a dream of mine to be a Gopher,” Rinzel said. He hopes to start college immediately after his senior year of high school, but said that timeline is something he will worry about down the road, solely focused on his junior season with Chaska currently.
Mattson joked that the only downside to seeing Rinzel commit to a college is that he picked one of North Dakota’s historical arch-rivals.
“It stings a little bit,” Mattson said with a laugh. “My years of brainwashing didn’t work, clearly. I know this was a dream of his, to play at Minnesota, so obviously I’m thrilled for him. But he would’ve looked good in green.”