Kessel makes return to Ridder

The forward skated with the Gophers for the first time in nearly three years on Friday.

Gophers forward Amanda Kessel fights for the puck Saturday night in Ridder Arean during third period. Kessel played her first game after being cleared by doctors to finish out her final year with the team.

Kathryn Chlystek

Gophers forward Amanda Kessel fights for the puck Saturday night in Ridder Arean during third period. Kessel played her first game after being cleared by doctors to finish out her final year with the team.

Emily Polglaze

Amanda Kessel took her spot on the goal line Friday night for the first time in nearly three years.
 
 
Kessel started at right wing in both of No. 3 Minnesota’s games against No. 8 North Dakota in her return to the ice. The Gophers won 3-0 on Friday and tied 0-0 on Saturday before losing an 11-round shootout.
 
 
Kessel was the final starter announced before Friday’s game. As she took her place on the blue line, Ridder Arena’s crowd immediately erupted with applause while her teammates tapped their sticks on the ice.
 
 
“I felt like a rookie out there,” Kessel said. “I didn’t know any of the routines or my place on the line, so I was just kind of following along and taking it all in.”
 
 
Her return was announced on Wednesday, after a nearly three-year absence in which she competed in the 2014 Olympics and dealt with lingering concussion issues. Kessel said she found out in August that she could possibly return, and she started practicing with the team in January before being cleared to play last week.
 
 
She showed she still has her play-making ability over the weekend, recording two assists on Friday.
 
 
Her first came on the power play in the first period on a goal by senior forward Hannah Brandt. The two were on the same line the last time Kessel played for the Gophers, and junior forward Dani Cameranesi joined them on the team’s first line during Friday’s game.
 
 
Kessel’s second assist came on a third-period goal by freshman defenseman-turned-forward Sophie Skarzynski, which sealed Minnesota’s (25-3-1, 20-3-1 WCHA) 3-0 victory.
 
 
Kessel was named the game’s first star on Friday in front of 2,635 fans.
 
 
“It was a big night for [Kessel] and our fans to have her back after a long layoff,” head coach Brad Frost said. “Getting two assists in your first game in close to three years is pretty special.”
 
 
The Gophers skated to their first tie of the season on Saturday, with no goals in the first three periods and a five-minute overtime. 
 
 
The two teams then went to a shootout, which lasted a total of 11 rounds. Junior forward Amy Menke scored in the first round for North Dakota, but Kessel answered the following round to make it 1-1.
 
 
Both teams were held scoreless for the next eight rounds until freshman forward Charly Dahlquist got around Leveille to give North Dakota an extra point in conference play.
 
 
Kessel skated off the ice with her first series of the season under her belt and two assists and a shootout goal to show for it.
 
 
“You could tell how badly she wanted to be out there,” Brandt said. “Whatever it takes, she wanted to be able to do it for us.”