New season, same goal: Gophers enter 2012-13 with target on back

Minnesota opens its season Friday after winning last season’s NCAA title.

Betsy Helfand

In true hockey-champion fashion, members of the Gophers women’s hockey team were able to spend a day with the NCAA trophy after they won the 2011-12 national championship.

Junior captain Bethany Brausen took it to her grandfather’s house to surprise him.

Her grandfather was sick at the time, and she said the trophy brought tears to his eyes.

She said the trophy got some good “site destinations” this summer, but team’s experiences with it were tame compared to those NHL players have with the Stanley Cup.

Like any championship team, the Gophers have enjoyed perks during the offseason. But now that the 2012-13 season is upon them, the Gophers are ready to learn from that experience and move on.

Brausen recalled a conversation she had with her mother this summer after the team had received national champion pullovers.

“They’ve got to quit spoiling us with this,” Brausen said to her mother. “It’s about time we look forward to a new season and not so much [last] season.”

Her mother told her to enjoy the experience while she had a chance.

But the new season officially begins Friday as Minnesota plays Colgate at home, and the team has shifted its focus.

Head coach Brad Frost said that the talk of repeating and defending the championship “is so far out of our minds right now.”

He said the team watched a video of the championship run at its first meeting.

“That was it,” Frost said. “We’re not going to watch any of that again for the year. … This is a completely different team. It’s a completely different year.”

The team is entering the new season ranked No. 1, and expectations are high.

Senior captain Megan Bozek said it is exciting to walk into the locker room knowing the players won last year.

“Then again, you have to think that this is a new team. It’s never going to be the same as last year, but we know what we’re capable of,” Bozek said.

With the national championship behind them, the returners on the team know exactly what it takes to return to that level.

“All the players that have been part of the team now know that feeling, how much hard work it is, whether it be workouts or practice or even in school and staying eligible,” Brausen said. “Everything like that is very, very helpful.”

She said the championship was “the best experience we could have had to brace ourselves for this season.”

This time around, the Gophers will have a target on their back.

“We’re now the hunted instead of doing the hunting,” Frost said.

But as a perennial powerhouse, the Gophers are used to other teams wanting to beat them simply because of the “M” on the front of their jerseys.

Brausen said the team’s success will come down to its work ethic and who wants it more.

“As much as we would love to say, ‘Hey, we won last year, so all of a sudden we get a free bid into the championship game,’ it doesn’t work that way,” she said.

Season opener notes

The Gophers and Colgate will play Sept. 28-29 at Ridder Arena. Although the two teams have never met, the Gophers are 51-16-4 against East Coast Athletic Conference teams.

The Gophers haven’t lost their season opener since 2008, and they lost just one home game last season.