When walking in the Gophers' athletic facilities at Mariucci Arena, it's not often that Dr. Jerod Ochsendorf enters a room without a greeting of a hug, or at least a big smile and a handshake. The chiropractor from Alexandria has been a familiar face among Gopher men's hockey players and faculty for several years. When word gets around the arena that he's in the training room to do adjustments, it doesn't take long for them to start trickling in. He lays them down face first, asks if anything has been bothering them, and then adjusts their back, neck, hips, shoulders and other joints as needed, all while catching up with them on how things are going.
There are many chiropractors available to work with the Gophers, but the reason they want Ochsendorf to make the trip from Alexandria every week is because of the person he is.
"The honesty, the integrity is huge with us, and I think that he cares for the student-athletes and they know it, as well," said University of Minnesota associate athletic trainer Jeff Winslow. "It's beyond how they do on the ice. It's personal growth, spiritual growth. It's across the board, everything that encompases the well-being of a person."
An opportunity arises
Exploring the idea of hiring Ochsendorf as the Gophers' chiropractor stemmed from a conversation between brothers and former Gophers Grant and Ryan Potulny.
Ryan, who was in the NHL at the time, explained how much the chiropractor for his NHL team did to make the players feel healthier on a regular basis. Grant was the assistant coach of the Gophers at the time and decided to see what he could do about getting one for the team at the U of M. Ryan had known Ochsendorf and suggested giving him a shot at the job.
Ochsendorf met with the Gophers coaching staff and the trainers, worked under Winslow's observation for a time and was then brought on board.
"I've been blessed and I'm very, very humbled to be in the position that I am, to be in the right place at the right time to have the opportunities that I've had," Ochsendorf said. "It just so happened that certain doors opened and I was able to walk through and take advantage of those situations and form really good relationships with people."
And the Gophers personnel appreciated his presence right off the bat.
"From the instant Jerod came in here, he was a true professional in every sense of the matter," said Grant Potulny. "He's obviously very knowledgeable in his craft, and he did a great job helping the guys recover from injuries. But he was also a professional in the sense that he understood how to deal with high-level athletes. When you come into an environment like that, the standards are very high. Jerod came in and he was phenomenal."
Part of a winner
With the addition of Ochsendorf came championships.
Under his treatment, the Gophers have won six straight conference titles, two in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and four in the Big Ten Conference. While Ochsendorf may not be the main reason for the championships, players and coaches say he played his role by keeping athletes healthy physically and confident mentally throughout the season.
"It gives the guys some sense of confidence knowing their body's right," Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel said. "It's the body maintenance and everybody feeling good about their body being able to perform at high levels come Friday and Saturday. The trainer and the chiropractor and the strength coach all kind of work hand-in-hand to make sure that you have a really good program so these kids can function at really high levels."
In Ochsendorf's experience, it's important for athletes to regularly see chiropractors because, even though they might not immediately feel the effects of their bodies' wear and tear, the lasting effect on their spine will stay with them for decades if it isn't corrected.
Former Gopher and Minnesota Wild forward and recent Las Vegas Knights NHL Expansion Draft pick Erik Haula realized the importance of seeing a chiropractor more as he got older.
"Just a couple years ago, I learned how important it is," he said. "I used to have hip problems all the time, and just starting to see a chiropractor a couple times a week, all the hip problems went away. That's important for your career the longer you want to play.
"I liked working with him. It helps, and once you get older you realize how much it actually helps. The older you get, the more you use chiropractors, and they do really help."
Ochsendorf isn't employed by the University of Minnesota. Rather, he is a volunteer staff member under contract so he is able to treat Gopher athletes. His weekly trips are simply to help athletes stay on top of their game. He's gotten a handful of Big Ten and WCHA championship rings and plenty of great experiences. That's reward enough for him.
"The more you give, the more gratitude, the more joy you get in your life," he said. "I think that's where I get a lot of my joy. I feel great about what I do. If I'm able to give and make somebody better, that just brings joy to me and to what I'm doing."
In addition to taking trips with the hockey team to regular season games, regional championships and Frozen Four tournaments, Ochsendorf has also worked with the training staff for USA Wrestling, including trips to the 2012 London Olympics and U.S. Open in Las Vegas in April.
Joe Rau, a 2020 Olympic hopeful who missed the Rio Olympics in 2016 only because his weight class didn't qualify to compete, said Ochsendorf has become a really good friend to him as they've gotten to know each other over the years.
"When I think of Jerod, I think of just a great person," Rau said. "He's been so much more than a chiropractor to me. He's been there every step of the way on this olympic dream, and he's come to all the tournaments and always helped us out at the drop of a hat. He's helped with nutrition, with spirituality. He's a religious guy and he's just such a positive guy in everybody's life that I feel like he touches. He's much more than a chiropractor."
New in the Alexandria community
Ochsendorf graduated from the College of Chiropractic at Northwestern Health and Sciences University in Bloomington in 2005, and soon after began his practice in Maple Grove. After outgrowing his first office space in six years, he moved to a bigger space nearby and grew to be the fifth largest natural wellness clinic in Minnesota. Ten months ago, he and his wife, Angie, decided Alexandria is where they wanted to raise their two sons, Kellen and Eli. They moved into town, and Jerod set up his chiropractic clinic, called Achieve Wellness.
In the 10 months he's been in Alexandria, Ochsendorf said he's happy with the growth of the new business. He currently serves mostly families and isn't working with many of the student athletes in the area. That's something he said he would love to start as a way to help them in their own athletic careers.
Potulny, who was recently hired as the head men's hockey coach at Northern Michigan, had his whole family going to see Dr. Ochsendorf while he was still practicing in Maple Grove, and Potulny himself kept getting adjustments when he needed on the weekly visits. He said Alexandria may not yet realize what Ochsendorf brings to the community.
"It's a wide range of people (that Jerad treats), from high-end Division I athletes that are on the cusp of playing in the National Hockey League and becoming stars there, to dealing with my three-year-old daughter, and everybody in between," he said. "I think that's the real gift that he has — he makes everybody feel welcome, on top of being a great chiropractor."