While some of her friends and teammates were preparing to compete in the 2014 Olympics, junior forward Hannah Brandt was back in Minneapolis leading the Gophers to the national championship game.
After attending a Team USA selection camp last June and failing to make the roster, Brandt had to refocus and prepare for her sophomore year at Minnesota.
“I think every year at college you get better, so having two years behind me, I think I am as good as I have been as a Gopher,” Brandt said.
After her record-breaking freshman year, Brandt’s numbers took a slight dip her sophomore year. But that doesn’t mean she played worse.
After recording 65 points for the Gophers last year — good enough for second in the nation — Brandt was named a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which is given to the top women’s college hockey player.
To go along with those impressive numbers, Brandt did her best to replace production the Gophers would have received from her teammates and Olympians Lee Stecklein and Amanda Kessel.
“Hannah Brandt is an incredible player and she always has been,” Stecklein said. “I think last year really helped her. She had to step up and fulfill an even bigger role than she did freshman year, so this year I’m really excited to see her just play.”
While Brandt didn’t make the Olympic squad last year, she’ll compete for Team USA this November at the Four Nations Cup in Canada.
“[Brandt] is somebody that continues to grow,” head coach Brad Frost said. “I think her skating is what held her back in the past, and she has continued to work on that. I’d have no concerns having her on the Olympic team or a national team. She is a special player.”
Before she competes for Team USA, Brandt is focused on replicating her success from a year ago.
“With all the Olympians coming back, it will make the season even more competitive this year, and it is always more fun to have the best players here. I’m looking forward to playing against some and with some,” Brandt said.
The Gophers will need Brandt and the rest of the team to perform well this weekend as they begin WCHA play in Duluth.
Minnesota-Duluth started the year ranked No. 10 but has since fallen out of the rankings after No. 2 Wisconsin swept it last weekend.
“Ever since the start of our program, [Minnesota-Duluth] has probably been our biggest rival,” Frost said. “They’ve had a lot of success up there, and while they may have been down the last few years, I think they’ve got a team that is real strong this year.”
The Gophers will play without junior Maryanne Menefee for the second consecutive weekend after Frost said she wouldn’t play due to a “coach’s decision.”
Menefee’s absence shouldn’t pose too much of an issue for Minnesota, as it was able to sweep the season series with the Bulldogs last year, winning the five meetings by a combined score of 26-4.
“Every point is critical, and we know UMD is going to be in the top half of our league most likely, and we’ve got to make sure we get points whenever we play them,” Frost said.