Returners fill hole left by senior class

The freshman class isn’t the only area where Minnesota has gotten help.

Minnesota forward Becky Kortum chases a puck during a game against St. Cloud State on Oct. 6, 2012 at Ridder Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Becky Kortum chases a puck during a game against St. Cloud State on Oct. 6, 2012 at Ridder Arena.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers women’s hockey team replaced last year’s powerhouse senior class with a stellar class of freshmen.

Minnesota has received significant contributions from its freshman class — especially Hannah Brandt, who currently leads the team in points.

But some of the team’s returners have steadily improved.

“We talk at the end of every year just about how we’re losing these players and for our returners, they’ve got to pick up the pace,” head coach Brad Frost said. “We expect them to be better this year than they were last year, and I think they’ve been doing a great job of that.”

Senior Becky Kortum, the team’s third-line center, is a prime example of that improvement.

Kortum played in just 28 games last season and scored five points, missing time due to injury and illness.

Through 10 games this year, Kortum has 10 points — five from goals and five from assists.

Frost said early goals helped her confidence. Working hard over the summer and being healthy also contributed to her success, she said.

“I think it was a good for me to learn and struggle through those injuries last year,” Kortum said. “I was prepared to accept any role that coach gave me this year to help the team succeed, and luckily I’ve been producing.”

Frost said Kortum was “ready for that increase in points” because she had a good sophomore year but was sidelined for portions of last year.

Kortum said her expectations for herself are high, but they “aren’t always surrounded by numbers.”

One of Kortum’s current linemates, Rachael Bona, has also stepped up after last season.

As a sophomore, she’s on pace to shatter her freshman-season numbers, which is in line with her preseason expectations.

“I wanted to get double as many points as I got last year and just be a force as a forward,” she said.

Bona had eight goals and seven assists last year for 15 points, but she already has 11 this year.

Frost said Bona has matured “a fair amount.”

“She played on a lot of different lines last year and in a few different roles,” Frost said, “and this year we’re relying on her a little more on the power play and logging some pretty significant ice time.”

Bona scored the game-winning goal Oct. 27 against North Dakota in the Gophers’ 5-1 victory.

She said she has placed greater expectations on herself as a sophomore, partially because her transition to college is over.

She said knowledge of WCHA opponents has helped her this season, and she has more confidence as a sophomore.

Minnesota’s third line — which has recently been comprised of Bona, Kortum and junior captain Bethany Brausen — has excelled in recent games.

“A lot of teams don’t have a third line that can put the puck in the net on a game-to-game basis, and we’re fortunate because ours does,” Frost said. “They’re a big reason for our success.”

Frost said following last season when the Gophers won the national championship “the last thing anybody wants is to be complacent, to rest on that.”

Senior defenseman Mira Jalosuo has also seen a significant boost in offensive production.

With 11 points already, she’s topped her nine from last year.

“Mira’s been getting better and better each year. This is the next progression for her,” Frost said.

Kortum, Bona, Jalosuo and the No. 1 Gophers (10-0-0) will play at Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.