ST. PAUL — It was nearly nine years ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins traded defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars. And it’s been more than three years since Goligoski left Texas and signed a pact with the Arizona Coyotes.

That means the native of Grand Rapids, Minn., and ex-Minnesota Gopher is closing in on a decade since he’s had to spend a hockey season in a city that truly experiences winter.

“I’m soft,” Goligoski joked after a Coyotes morning skate at Xcel Energy Center last week. “I’ve been out of the winters for nine years now, so when I come back I get a little weak.”

Thankfully, it was in the high 30s in the Twin Cities when the Coyotes came to town, and Goligoski — one of three former Gophers on the Arizona roster — was made to feel right at home back in Minnesota. His stall in the visitors’ locker room featured not only his Coyotes nameplate, but a cardboard oar with the Gophers logo and the football team’s “Row the Boat” slogan.

In his 13th NHL season, Goligoski signed a five-year deal worth more than $27 million in the summer of 2016 to become a Coyote. His career earnings, since signing with the Penguins in 2007, are estimated at $46.5 million. All of that for a blue collar player who has one Stanley Cup ring (won with Pittsburgh in 2009), has never been an NHL All-Star, and for whom very few replica jerseys are sold.

“He quietly goes about his business and does everything well, whether it’s defending, breaking out or joining the rush,” said Coyotes assistant coach Phil Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman from St. Paul. “He plays in all situations but he just goes about and does his business.”

Housley, a Minnesota high school hockey star at South St. Paul before making the jump directly to a 1,600-game NHL career in 1982, also noted Goligoski’s skating skills. That allows him to play a fast game, or a heavy game, depending on what the Coyotes need on any given shift.

That quietly effective nature is what allowed Goligoski to thrive on his road to the NHL as well as keeping him in the league earning a notable paycheck for more than a dozen years.

He was a star for Grand Rapids High School, and a mainstay on the Gophers’ blue line for three seasons, skating in one Frozen Four and winning a pair of WCHA titles. Even then, his steady defensive game was not spotlight material, with high-scoring Gophers like Blake Wheeler, Ryan Potulny and current Coyotes teammate Phil Kessel grabbing the bulk of the attention from fans and opponents.

“That’s just kind of how he is. He flies under the radar. He’s humble. He’s smart. He keeps to himself and just quietly goes about being effective,” said Gophers assistant coach Ben Gordon, who was a Goligoski teammate at the university and remains good friends with him. “It’s the old saying that if you don’t notice a defenseman a whole lot, he’s probably doing his job.

"He’s offensively talented as well, but he’s not one of the superstar offensive defensemen. He just kind of slips through the cracks because he plays a simple game.”

On a young and talented Coyotes team that is still working to get the desert southwest interested in hockey more than two decades after the original Winnipeg Jets relocated to the Valley of the Sun, Goligoski has most often been paired with Jakob Chychrun, who is 21 and already playing in his fourth NHL season.

“I’ve played with ‘Goosie’ a fair amount the past three years and we’ve had a long stretch together so it’s nice to continue to build on our chemistry. He’s always been kind of a mentor to me and I love playing with him,” Chychrun said. “He’s a very smart hockey player who sees the game really well. We’re able to help each other out because he’s such a great puck-moving defenseman. He can shut guys down, but he’s also calm with the puck and makes great plays.”

That natural calm comes out in the locker room, and away from the ice, say friends who insist that all these years and wins and dollars later, Goligoski is still the guy from the 218 area code who showed up on campus in 2004, eager to be a Gopher.

“Off the ice you’d never know he’s a guy that’s made $50 million,” Gordon said. “He’s a northern Minnesotan and he hasn’t gone too far from that. He understands where he came from and he’s a good guy, a good teammate, a good dad.”

The Goligoski family splits their warm-weather time between a home in Minneapolis and a cabin in Wisconsin, then heads for Arizona just as the leaves start to turn.

They are certainly not the only hockey-loving Minnesotans who spend their winters in Arizona, but at 34, Goligoski may be the youngest and the highest-paid snowbird in the land of scorpions and saguaro cactus.

“We get the best of both worlds,” he said, with a smile.

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