Brandt heads women hockey’s freshman class

The Gophers welcome seven new players a year after their NCAA title.

Betsy Helfand

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team will begin the 2012-13 season this weekend right where it left off — as the No. 1 team in the country.

But when the Gophers hit the ice Friday for their first game of the season, they’ll sport a different look than the team that skated off as national champions in March.

The team graduated forwards Emily West, Jen Schoullis, Sarah Erickson and Nikki Ludwigson along with defenders Anne Schleper and Kelly Seeler.

Schoullis, Erickson, and West were the team’s second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers, respectively.

Head coach Brad Frost said the team lost a lot with its senior class but is expecting its newcomers to contribute right away.

Minnesota picked up freshmen Amanda Leveille, Maryanne Menefee, Brook Garzone, Hannah Brandt, Lee Stecklein and Milica McMillen.

The team also added Jordyn Burns, a sophomore transfer from Syracuse.

“It’s a brand new team for us,” Frost said. “We can’t look at last year’s team and think we’re going to be identical to that.”

Frost added, “It’s a new year, but we’re certainly having the same goals.”

On Tuesday, the WCHA announced Brandt as the unanimous preseason conference rookie of the year as voted by the head coaches.

Frost said he thought the honor was well-deserved. He called Brandt a “dynamic player” and said she sees the ice as well as anybody.

Brandt won a gold medal as a forward for the U.S. under-18 team at the 2011 World Championships, and she was selected as Minnesota’s Ms. Hockey last year.

Frost said Brandt was like a combination of former Gophers hockey stars Krissy Wendell-Pohl and Natalie Darwitz.

Darwitz and Wendell-Pohl played for the Gophers from 2002-05 and are the program’s two leading scorers, respectively.

Frost said he thought McMillen, a St. Paul native, is “probably the best [defenseman] coming out of that class in North America.”

Frost called Stecklein a “simple defenseman” and a “good skater” who moves the puck well.

The Gophers return Noora Räty, one of the best goaltenders in the country, but Frost said Leveille will “get some time” this year at goalie and will “play big minutes” once Räty graduates.

Menefee was also a member of the U.S. under-18 national team, and Frost said that she has “great hands and some finish to her game.”

The last member of the class, Garzone, attended Shattuck St. Mary’s, a famous hockey school. Frost said the team has had a lot of success with players from Shattuck. Minnesota’s top scorer last year, Amanda Kessel, is also a graduate of the school.

Burns is a sophomore from Chanhassen, Minn. She had two goals and eight assists in her freshman season at Syracuse.

Senior captain Megan Bozek said that the freshmen are nervous and excited for their first game but ready to go.

She said that they have done well in practice, especially considering they have a lot to learn upon arrival.

Junior captain Bethany Brausen said she talked to one of the team’s freshmen yesterday about turning her nervous energy into excitement.

“I’m just telling her ‘What is there to be nervous about? You know what you’re doing. You finally got what you wanted — you’re going to the school that you wanted to go to, so don’t overthink it,’” Brausen said.

Because forwards Kelly Terry and Sarah Davis are competing at the Canadian National Camp this week, Frost said the new class should see a lot of ice time.

“They’re going to have to get their feet wet pretty quickly,” Frost said. “We normally like to ease them in a little bit, [but] they’re going to be thrown right into the fire.”

The Gophers will play their first series this Friday and Saturday against Colgate at Ridder Arena.