Gophers enter season hungry for a championship

The Gophers will begin their season this weekend at Ridder Arena.

Grant Donald

After falling just short of its national championship goal last year, head coach Brad Frost said the Gophers women’s hockey team is hungrier for the victory than in years past.

Minnesota will rely on a strong and experienced group of seniors to pave the path to redemption.

“[Last year was] the first time we tasted defeat in that [national championship] game in three years, so I know our players are hungry,” Frost said.

The Gophers will open the season ranked No. 1 in the nation and will test that ranking early in the season.

After opening up their season this weekend with games against Penn State and No. 6 Boston University, the Gophers will play No. 10 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 8 North Dakota this month.

Frost said he is excited about the early tests, as they will serve as a gauge for where the team stands.

“We are heading right into the meat grinder right away, and we’re excited to see where we match up with those teams,” he said.

The Gophers will benefit from having sophomore defenseman Lee Stecklein back in maroon and gold. Stecklein redshirted last year as she competed in the Olympics for Team USA.

“I really learned a lot this last year, and I’m excited to bring everything I learned back,” Stecklein said. “I think this year I will probably be a little more confident than I was freshman year.”

While the Gophers will benefit with the addition of Stecklein, her USA teammate Amanda Kessel’s absence will be noticeable.

Kessel is sitting out this year because of lingering concussion symptoms that she sustained while playing for the U.S. national team.

“Obviously, [Kessel] got over 100 points a couple seasons ago, so she will be hard to replace,” senior forward Rachael Bona said. “But I think it gives motivation to other players on the team to step up and play a big role.”

Bona is coming off a breakout year in which she recorded 61 points, ranking third in the nation.

One of the players who finished ahead of Bona last year was a fellow teammate, junior Hannah Brandt.

Brandt tallied 65 points and was the WCHA Player of the Year.

While Bona and Brandt will be a force up front, the Gophers are also strong at the blue line.

“I think we have got three of the best in the whole country in [Rachel] Ramsey, Stecklein and [Milica] McMillen,” Frost said.

Last year at this time, the Gophers had the added pressure of continuing “the streak.” Their 62-game winning streak ended last year with a loss to North Dakota.

Bona said the Gophers are relieved they don’t have to worry about keeping the record-setting streak going.

“I think as a team, when our streak ended, we were able to play more freely,” Bona said. “I think starting a new year, we have no expectations — we have no streak coming into the season. I think we can just play and have fun.”

 

Jack Satzinger contributed to this report.