ST. PAUL — A week that ended with sports and much of American life being disrupted like we have never seen before, began with unbridled joy and excitement for Charlie Strobel and his family.
On Saturday night, March 7, Strobel — a senior forward at Hill-Murray — scored twice in his team’s 4-1 victory over Eden Prairie in the Class AA Minnesota State Championship game.
And before the college hockey season came to a screeching halt on Thursday, March 12, Strobel had made a commitment to play for the Minnesota Gophers sometime in the next few years. For those who know Charlie Strobel, it was not a surprise. For those who know his family, it was somewhat less-expected.
Strobel’s father, Mike, also won a state title for the Pioneers, in 1991, then headed east, where he skated for the Wisconsin Badgers. Mike’s twin brother Mark also played at Wisconsin and is currently a Badgers assistant coach. But if you think that Charlie turned his back on family by choosing to be a Gopher, it was quite the opposite.
“The look on Charlie’s face when he was on his recruiting trip was no different than mine at Wisconsin,” Mike said. “You just feel that you’re wanted and welcomed into a family. I saw that in his eyes and let him soak it in and make the decision.”
Charlie, 18, is the oldest of Mike and Jill Strobel’s two sons. Ryan, 16, is autistic and nonverbal, but is Charlie’s biggest fan. Mike believes that a chance to play college hockey closer to that family fan base was a factor in the decision as well. Charlie said 20 miles or so away from the family’s home in Stillwater, he found what felt like another home on the U of M campus.
“It felt like family. Coaches (Bob) Motzko, (Garrett) Raboin and (Ben) Gordon made it feel like they loved me for me,” Charlie said, recalling his official campus visit. “Talking with them at the Athletes Village at the training table and seeing how athletes from all sports sit together and eat made me really feel at home. I was super comfortable and they clearly loved Charlie Strobel for Charlie Strobel. That’s kind of what made me commit to the U.”
What made the U of M interested in Strobel started long before his star turn at Xcel Energy Center in early March, when he averaged two points per game in the Pioneers’ wins over Moorhead, St. Thomas Academy and Eden Prairie. As well as being a prototypical power forward on the ice, Strobel showed the program his worth wearing the ‘C’ on his sweater and being a team leader long before their first practice of the 2019-20 season.
“Charlie did a really nice job of maturing from sophomore to junior to senior year,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “Obviously your role changes when you’re elected captain by your peers. He did very well that way, and as a hockey player he became more confident -- bigger, stronger, quicker. And he grew into his leadership role. It started in the summer with him bonding with the kids and the potential team.”
By the time the final horn blew in St. Paul, with sticks, gloves and helmets being tossed toward the rafters, Strobel —who wore No. 27 — had put up 27 goals and 27 assists in 31 games, and earned a state championship medal.
“Mentally one of the biggest things I can add is my competitiveness and intensity. I’ve kind of had that in my bloodline,” Charlie said. “I see myself as a blue collar, old-school guy. I love to play physical and use my body to my advantage. I see the ice well and when I move my feet I feel like I’m really effective with the puck, knowing when to pass or shoot.”
Just when those skills might be seen on the rink at 3M Arena at Mariucci is not on any definite timeline. Strobel will graduate from Hill-Murray in a few months, and expects to play junior hockey next season, either for the Bismarck Bobcats of the NAHL or for a USHL team if he is drafted in May. He hopes to head to the U of M in the fall of 2021. After a year of junior hockey, it would certainly feel like a homecoming. And while admitting he will always have a place in his heart for the Badgers, Mike Strobel said he will gladly don maroon and gold and be a Gophers dad.
“They kind of just wanted me to be me. Growing up in Stillwater, playing association hockey there, they let me do my own thing,” Charlie said of his supportive parents. “(Wisconsin) was my dad’s path, but he made sure that wasn’t a deciding factor for me. He wanted me to feel the most comfortable wherever I go. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s hard to make an impact, so for me the whole staff and the campus at the U felt like home.”