Judd Stevens won two national titles at Minnesota and played in three Frozen Fours.
GopherSports.com: What was your time like at Minnesota and what is your favorite memory from playing at Mariucci Arena?
Judd Stevens: My time at Minnesota was so special and times that I won't ever forget. There is nothing like the feeling of running out from the tunnel with the rouser playing in front of a packed Mariucci Arena on game day. I get the chills just thinking about it. It was so special to play in front of and for the state of Minnesota and all the rich hockey tradition that we have. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to wear the "M" and be a part of the Gopher Hockey family.
There are so many awesome memories from playing at Mariucci Arena that it's hard to pick just one favorite. One of my favorites is the 2005 West Regional at Mariucci. We beat Maine and Cornell on consecutive nights in overtime to advance to the Frozen Four. The building was electric and it was a pressure-packed, fun two games.
GS: Where was your favorite place to eat on campus at the University of Minnesota? What did you do in your spare time?
JS: My favorite place on campus to eat is either Campus Pizza or Manning's. Both have awesome food and a great atmosphere.
In our spare time we were normal college kids. We played video games, played poker, did homework and just hung out. I am still best friends with all of my roommates (and teammates) as you develop a special bond during your four years of living on campus.
GS: As a Minnesota-native, did winning the national championship in your hometown make the memorable moments from that experience more special?
JS: Having the Frozen Four at the Xcel and playing in front of our fans was simply amazing. The feel in the building that night is one that I'll never forget. It had been so long since Minnesota had won a national championship that it just felt like it was our time. It was great that so many people got to witness the game and be a part of the awesome experience. Not to take anything away from the 2003 national championship in Buffalo, but the one in St. Paul was an experience like no other.
GS: Before your teams' back-to-back championships, there hadn't been a repeat NCAA champion in more than 30 years. Going into the 2002-03 season, did you think you would win another national title? How did it feel once you accomplished it?
JS: Coming off the 2002 national championship, we lost a lot of very good players and leaders so it took us a while to come together as a team. Early in the year we took our lumps and went through some tough stretches. Once the second half of the year began we came together and started to play like a team. Once playoffs began, we were playing so well that it almost took some of the butterflies or nerves away because we knew if we played the way we were capable of playing no one could beat us. It was an awesome feeling to win back-to-back national championships and put Minnesota back in its place as the premier college hockey program in the country.
GS: What made the 2001-02 and 2002-03 championship teams different from each other? Was your role different as a sophomore than it was as a freshman?
JS: The first national championship felt like destiny. We knew we were a good team, but there were a lot of other very good teams so it took some luck and hometown magic to help us. The second national championship season was different because by January we knew we were the best team in the country and couldn't be stopped. That's not to say it was easy, but it just felt like a freight train that no team could get in the way of.
For both years, I was asked to be a reliable defenseman that could play strong in our own end and not make any big mistakes. We had so many great playmakers that us role players knew if we did our job we would win most nights.
GS: How did it feel to be named team captain in your senior year and help lead the team to its third Frozen Four appearance in your college career?
JS: I was honored to wear the "C" at Minnesota and humbled by the list of captains that were before me. We had a young team my senior year and to ultimately make it to the Frozen Four for a third time in four years was something that we were all very proud of. The regional tournament was at Mariucci that year and was one of the more fun weekends of hockey I have been apart of. We ultimately didn't win a national championship, but were proud to make it back to the Frozen Four with such a young team.
GS: Who was the best player you ever played with?
JS: Tie between Paul Martin and Thomas Vanek. I am biased toward Paul because I spent a good amount of time with him as my defensive partner and I saw every day how gifted he was. He is an incredibly intelligent hockey player with instincts that cannot be taught. Thomas is a pure goal scorer. He would do things in practices and games that the rest of us dreamt of being able to do. Ultimately, I was very fortunate to be able to play with both of them and so many other great players.
GS: What have you been up to since your college career ended?
JS: I spent some time playing professionally over in Sweden, but ultimately decided to put my finance degree to work. I am currently an associate with TripleTree Investment Bank where I have been for just over four years. I coach in the High School Elite League and find other ways to stay involved in hockey.
GS: To what extent do you follow Gopher hockey today? Do you still keep in touch with the players you played with at the U?
JS: I follow the program very closely and am excited about how well they're playing this year. I am still very close to my teammates from my four years. That's part of what's so special about Minnesota--most guys live around the area and we all get to see each other quite a bit. I have also stayed close with the coaches. Being a coach in the High School Elite League, I now have a chance to talk to them about some of the players that I coach who may be future Gophers.
GS: How was it returning to Mariucci to celebrate the 10th anniversary of your team's 2002 national championship?
JS: It was very fun to return to Mariucci and see all the boys again. The University did an excellent job bringing us back and putting on the ceremony. It was fun to see the fans and hear them talk about how well they remember our times at the U. Many of us players joked that it felt good to sign our names as autographs rather than signing our names to pay cable or cell phone bills like we've been so accustomed to doing! Overall, the University did a very nice job of bringing us back and it was great to see everyone and celebrate with the best fans in college hockey.
GS: You opened the 2003-04 season by playing in the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb. Your game that weekend was against this week's Gopher opponent, Nebraska Omaha, marked the only time Minnesota has ever played the Mavericks on the road and the only time the Gophers have beaten UNO. Do you remember that game?
JS: I do remember that game fairly well because I scored two goals. I was not much of a goal scorer and that was the only multi-goal of my college career. I remember it was an ugly game that we ended up winning 7-3. The UNO program has come a long way since then. This weekend will be a fun one for the Gophers.