After losing players to the Winter Olympics, Gophers looks to fill void with freshmen

Two freshmen scored for the team in their most-recent game against Merrimack.

Freshman forward Grace Zumwinkle chases after the puck during a game against Merrimack at Rider Arena on Sept. 29.

Jack Rodgers, Daily File Photo

Freshman forward Grace Zumwinkle chases after the puck during a game against Merrimack at Rider Arena on Sept. 29.

Max Biegert

The Gophers’ top two scorers from last year were both eligible to return to the team for this season.

However, that all changed when the two qualified for Olympic teams.

Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak will be playing for the United States and Canadian national teams, respectively, when February rolls around. Currently, they are off training with their teams and will miss out on their senior and junior years of their college hockey careers, respectively. This move forced new players to step into new roles to make up for the loss of two of the best offensive players on the Gophers team last year. 

“When you lose two dynamic players like that, it takes everyone,” said head coach Brad Frost. “New roles are emerging and we are excited to see where they go from there.”

The Gophers will look to find leadership from seniors who have been there before. Caitlin Reilly, Sydney Baldwin, Cara Piazza and Sidney Peters will have to help this younger team become acclimated to the pressures and the play of college hockey. These players have been part of six straight Frozen Fours and have won two national championships. 

“With not having [Pannek and Potomak], there is a big role for seniors and even juniors to really step up and try their best to play their best hockey and do what they can and hope for production,” Reilly said. 

Last year, Pannek had 19 goals and 43 assists and Potomak had 20 goals and 33 assists, combining for 115 points, which was 34 percent of the offense for the Gophers. Redshirt junior Nicole Schammel has helped fill the scoring void so far. Schammel scored two goals in the second game against Merrimack on Sunday. 

“I had a slower start last year, so it feels good to get a good start this year and hopefully things keep going,” Schammel said after the game on Sunday. “Up and down our lineup, we have really good hockey players, just a lot of people are going to have to step up and fill those roles.” 

Freshmen like Grace Zumwinkle, Olivia Knowles, Alex Gulstene and Taylor Wente will now find themselves having to produce maybe more than they were expecting coming into their first year. 

In the first series against Merrimack, the freshmen got off to a good start with Zumwinkle finding the back of the net twice, Knowles and Wente grabbing their first goals and Gulstene earning her first win with the Gophers. Sophomore Kippin Keller notched her first goal this season, already totaling her goal production from last year.. 

“We are going to rely on [the freshmen] as we will with many other players, but they have accumulated really well,” Frost said. 

The Gophers fell to 12-2 all time in season home openers last Friday after dropping the first game in the Merrimack series, but bounced back on Sunday with a 4-1 win. The Gophers will look to continue to adjust to their new roles this weekend as they face WCHA foe Ohio State at Ridder Arena. 

“I think overall, as the top nine forwards, we are all meshing really well,” Reilly said. “If everyone is focusing on themselves and continue to not be compared to other players … then I don’t think we will have any problems.”

Jack White contributed to this report.