Captain hopes to cap career with national title

Jen Schoullis is enjoying the best year of her career for the No. 2 Gophers.

Minnesota senior captain Jen Schoullis prepares for practice Tuesday afternoon at Ridder Arena. The Gophers host North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Satchell Mische-Richter

Minnesota senior captain Jen Schoullis prepares for practice Tuesday afternoon at Ridder Arena. The Gophers host North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Samuel Gordon

Jen Schoullis’s college career will be over by March 18, the date of the NCAA championship game.

The Gophers’ senior captain has played in the national tournament every year of her career and has skated in one Frozen Four but an NCAA championship has eluded her.

“We’ve come so close to winning in the past. We can all taste it,” she said. “We have more passion and strive for winning it more than ever before.”

Schoullis, a fifth-year senior, has done her part in guiding the Gophers to a 31-5-2 record, the WCHA tournament championship and the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

She posted career highs in goals (23) and points (61) and was named to the All-WCHA team for the first time in her career, earning Second Team honors.

Gophers co-captain Sarah Erickson said Schoullis’ steadiness has been critical.

“It’s good to see [Schoullis] find [consistency] over the years,” Erickson said. “I know that it would be up and down in earlier years. … Every game she’s ready to compete and ready to play, and it shows on the ice.”

Minnesota will likely need that consistency once again Saturday when the team enters its first-round NCAA tournament matchup with North Dakota.

Should the Gophers win, they will travel to Duluth for the Frozen Four, where another pair of victories would clinch a national championship.

National championships are nothing new for Schoullis. She won three of them while playing at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep-school hockey powerhouse in Faribault, Minn.

Schoullis said not winning a title with the Gophers has helped her realize how fortunate she was to have tasted victory in the past.

“I was extremely lucky, and you come into your college season and you expect to do the same,” she said.

Wisconsin, the No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, has won two national titles in the last three seasons. The Badgers aggressively recruited Schoullis, but she opted to join Minnesota instead.

“I love the rink. I love all the fan support that they’ve got,” she said. “Everybody in the program always seems to excel.”

She joined the team in 2007-08 and scored 20 points in her freshman season. She doubled her point total as a sophomore, but a shoulder injury prior to her junior campaign forced her to redshirt and miss the entire 2009-10 season.

“I was able to see the game in a different light and improve that way even though I didn’t play,” she said of her redshirt year. “It actually ended up being a great decision.”

Healthy and ready to play again in 2010-11, she recorded 32 points and was an assistant captain on the team.

Her former prep-school teammate and long-time friend Amanda Kessel said Schoullis helped her transition to the college game in her freshman season.

Kessel and Schoullis trained with Team USA last summer. Schoullis also worked with acclaimed hockey physiologist Jack Blatherwick, and Gophers head coach Brad Frost said he’s noticed significant improvements in her game.

“[She] really committed to making sure this was her best year, and the hard work has paid off this year for her,” he said. “There’s nobody that works harder than Jen Schoullis, and our players respect her tremendously for that.”

Teammates voted her and Erickson as team captains for this season.

“When you can fuel off each other, it’s really nice. It comes in handy in times of need,” Erickson said. “We have the same goals in mind for the team, as well as individually.”

Some professional teams have begun to take notice of Schoullis’ play. She said when she’s done playing for Minnesota, she’s going to head east and play for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

She said playing professionally will aid the pursuit of her childhood dream of playing in the Olympics.

The team has “a lot of the U.S. noncollegiate national team players … It’s just beneficial for me to train with them and our off-ice trainers out there,” she said.

But first, she’s got some unfinished business in the Midwest with the Gophers.

“This is by far the best team I’ve seen in five years,” Schoullis said. “This is our year.”