Rookie award, followed by a hat trick

Amanda Kessel is leading Minn. with 49 points as a freshman.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota freshman standout Amanda Kessel has always been up for a challenge, and last Friday against Minnesota-Duluth she certainly proved her point.

Kessel carried the Gophers to a 4-2 victory in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, recording a hat trick just one day after being named WCHA Rookie of the Year.

âÄúAfter getting an award like that you have to prove to people you deserve it, and I think I did that,âÄù Kessel said.

She certainly did, meeting this challenge with the same competitive nature that has fueled her throughout her young career.

Kessel, a Madison, Wisc., native, said she first learned to skate at the age of four and was playing in organized leagues a year later.

As her skills continued to progress, Kessel soon found herself playing for the Madison Capitols Bantam boysâÄô team. She helped lead the team to both state and regional championships.

âÄúI definitely credit a lot of my competiveness and just how I have developed as a player to playing with boys,âÄù Kessel said. âÄúEverything about it has made me a better player.âÄù

She chose to attend high school at Shattuck St. MaryâÄôs in Faribault, Minn., where she was able to sharpen her talent. Kessel scored 67 goals and racked up 55 assists on her way to a team-leading 122 points in her senior season.

She won two U-19 national championships while at Shattuck St. MaryâÄôs.

âÄúAttending Shattuck has been one of the best choices I have made in my life thus far,âÄù Kessel said in a statement. âÄúI had great coaching there for four years and was able to play with other skilled players.âÄù

She was also selected to play for both the United States Under-22 and Under-18 Team, bringing her competitive fire to the national stage.

In 2009 at the International Ice Hockey FederationâÄôs World U-18 Championships, Kessel was named the tournamentâÄôs most valuable forward, scoring six goals and 13 assists and helping lead Team USA to a gold medal.

Kessel said her time with Team USA continued to drive her towards success as she was able to play with some of the best players in the country.

Possessing an impressive résumé, Kessel was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and ultimately chose the University of Minnesota.

Head coach Brad Frost was ecstatic to have the opportunity to sign her.

âÄúSheâÄôs a big time player, there is no question,âÄù Frost said. âÄúHer talent is off the charts.âÄù

This talent Frost spoke of was needed with the loss of Emily West early in the season.

Kessel did not disappoint.

In her first game with the Gophers, she registered 4 points, scoring two goals and dishing out two assists.

Since then she has shown no signs of stopping.

She leads the team in scoring with 49 points and said the added pressure at the start of the season is something she thrived on.

âÄúI like having pressure âÄî I think I play better under it,âÄù Kessel said.

Though she has the WCHA Rookie of the Year honor under her belt, something her brother Phil Kessel âÄî now of the NHLâÄôs Toronto Maple Leafs âÄî also received in his one year with the Gophers, she said she is not satisfied.

Her competitiveness does not allow her to be.

âÄúI just always want to be the best at anything I do, but especially with hockey,âÄù Kessel said. âÄúI have such a competitive spirit, and I hate to lose.

âÄúAfter losing this past weekend [against Wisconsin] IâÄôd like to win that WCHA championship at some point [in my career at Minnesota], and of course I want to win a national championship.âÄù

Frost said this season is only the beginning for Kessel, and the sky is the limit for her as a player.

âÄúSheâÄôs kind of been fighting nagging injuries this entire year, and if she can get fully healthy this summer âÄî get into the weight room âÄî and continue to get a little stronger, I think that is only going to help her,âÄù Frost said. âÄúI would expect her to be wearing the team USA jersey in the Olympics one of these days.âÄù