Minnesota set for encore season

The Gophers begin their season with a pair of exhibition games this week.

Minnesota forward Hannah Brandt battles Minnesota State forward Kari Lundberg on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at Ridder Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Hannah Brandt battles Minnesota State forward Kari Lundberg on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at Ridder Arena.

Betsy Helfand

Minnesota women’s hockey head coach Brad Frost said time and time again last season his team was going to eventually lose a game.

It didn’t.

The Gophers went 41-0-0 last season en route to their second straight national championship.

Still, Frost knows perfect seasons don’t come around often, and odds are this team will lose a game this season.

“The thought of going undefeated I don’t think has crossed anybody’s mind on our team,” Frost said. “And if it has, then we’ll talk about it here in a couple days.” 

That’s not to say this team is going to struggle this year — it’s entering the season with the No. 1 ranking. But it will likely face a few hiccups along the way.

“It’s not about going undefeated. It’s about improving throughout the year,” Frost said. “I would expect us to be a much better team five months from now than we are right now.”

The team will look a lot different than last year due to graduation and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Minnesota graduated six players, including All America defender Megan Bozek and All America goalie Noora Räty.

Frost said sophomore goalie Amanda Leveille, who played in seven games and didn’t give up a goal last season, is the team’s starter in net as of right now.

The Gophers also lose Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner Amanda Kessel and defender Lee Stecklein to the U.S. national team this year.

Though Team USA hasn’t made final cuts for the Olympic roster, Frost isn’t expecting either of them back this season.

Sophomore forward Hannah Brandt, sophomore defender Milica McMillen and junior defender Rachel Ramsey were also in contention for the national roster, but all three will be with the Gophers this year.

Minnesota has seven incoming freshmen, which Frost said is larger than the normal class.

Dani Cameranesi, 2013’s Minnesota Ms. Hockey, was named the preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year.

Frost said he thinks she will have a fairly big year.

“[She’s] not necessarily a natural goal scorer, but she’s going to get her goals because of how hard she works,” Frost said.

The Gophers will look for scoring from different sources to replace the nation’s most prolific scorer, Kessel.

That scoring could come from Brandt. Brandt played on the same line as Kessel last year and finished second in the country in scoring with 82 points. She will be expected to shoulder a decent amount of the scoring load for Minnesota.

Frost said the team will also look to seniors Sarah Davis and Kelly Terry and junior Rachael Bona for offensive production.

“I’m not worried, necessarily, about our players up front,” he said. “I think we’ve got 11 or 12 that can really play up there.”

In contrast, the Gophers are thin defensively.

Ramsey, McMillen and senior Baylee Gillanders are the only returning defenders on the current roster.

Frost said sophomore Brook Garzone, who played forward for the Gophers last season, has been playing defense in practice for the team.

Junior Jordyn Burns, who appeared in 21 games last season, will also be called upon to play defense. 

Minnesota will use the two exhibition games to tinker with line combinations and pairings on defense.

Though the Gophers will be thin numbers-wise, they go into the season with experience.

Still, they’re not taking that for granted.

“There’s a natural tendency to want to think that just because of everything that happened last season, we’re automatically going to be successful this year,” senior captain Bethany Brausen said in a statement. “I think that, more and more, we’re all realizing that that’s not the case whatsoever.”