Kessel completes comeback story

The forward scored five goals during the NCAA tournament in her on-ice return.

Emily Polglaze

Amanda Kessel said a year ago, she wasn’t sure she’d be back playing in another Frozen Four.
 
 
She took two-plus seasons off due to lingering concussion symptoms but managed to return to play for the Gophers again in February.
 
 
And on Sunday, she capped her career by winning a third national championship.
 
 
“There was a moment about a minute after we won where I’m just sitting there, almost laughing to myself,” Kessel said. “I can’t believe it. I never would have imagined this happening. I’m just so grateful and waiting to wake up.”
 
 
Kessel slowly started to reintegrate to the team in August after a lengthy absence from hockey, thanks to a concussion from her time with Team USA in the 2014 Olympics.
 
 
Head coach Brad Frost said Kessel saw a new doctor that suggested time on the ice as a method of rehab, but he tried not to get excited about it.
 
 
“I just felt like it was an extreme long shot, and I just tried to keep myself from not thinking about whether she’d make it back or not,” Frost said.
 
 
By December she started practicing with the team again, and in February she was cleared to play in her first game.
 
 
“You could see the improvement, and you could see the light back in Kess’s eyes,” Frost said. “She was back to who she is and what she’s born to do.”
 
 
Her return proceeded to spark the Gophers toward their fourth national championship in five years. In 13 games this season, Kessel tallied 17 points.
 
 
She scored 11 goals, which put her at more than 100 in her career. Only four other Minnesota skaters have accomplished that feat.
 
 
In the postseason, Kessel scored a hat trick in the first round of the NCAA tournament game against Princeton and also added an assist. She said while everyone else was slowing down, she was just peaking.
 
 
She wasn’t wrong. Kessel added two more goals in the Frozen Four, tying the team’s semifinal game against Wisconsin early in the third period and scoring the game-winning goal in Sunday’s championship match. A little later than she likely expected, Kessel ended her college career on top.
 
 
“I know personally that one person can’t make the difference,” Kessel said. “I think everybody battled hard out there, and these are games that you don’t get back. We laid it all on the line, and I really couldn’t be happier with our team’s effort.”