In looking to become only the third NCAA school to have won four NCAA Frozen Four championships, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have every reason to believe it can be done. Led by Megan Bozek on defense, Amanda Kessel on offense and Noora Raty between the pipes, the defending champs have formidable talent at all positions.
Despite the loss of team captains Jen Schoullis and Anne Schleper to graduation, the squad still has many character players. WCHA scholar athletes Bethany Brausen and Bozek will be the co-captains for the upcoming campaign. While the graduation of Sarah Erickson (49 points), and Emily West (44 points) will impact the Gophers scoring output, the Gophers still have players such as Sarah Davis and Kelly Terry ready to increase their offensive production. Last season, Davis provided 34 points while Terry accumulated 30 points.
With a recruiting class that rivals Wisconsin’s, said class offers a lot of promise. Of all the recruits, none has more expectation than Hannah Brandt, the 2012 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award winner. A graduate of Hill-Murray high school, Brandt attended the USA Hockey training camp for the 2012 IIHF Women’s Worlds. She will be counted upon to be a productive scorer in the same mold as Kessel.
In looking to find a replacement for Raty, the program may have accomplished that with the acquisition of Amanda Leveille from Kingston, Ontario. In helping Team Ontario Red win the 2011 Canadian National Under 18 championships, she was recognized as the tournament’s top goaltender. With the Ottawa Lady Senators of the PWHL, Leveille was named to the league’s All-Star team.
The one aspect that makes Minnesota so dangerous, is that they had Wisconsin’s number multiple times during the previous season. Of the Badgers three regular-season losses, two came at the hands of the Golden Gophers, including a 1-0 shutout. The programs (both ranked in the Top Two nationally) would meet again in the 2012 NCAA championship. Having neutralized the scoring threat of Patty Kazmaier Award winner Brianna Decker (she was held pointless), the Gophers emerged victorious.
Although WCHA rivals such as Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota (with the Lamoureux twins) will be threats to advance to the Frozen Four, the Golden Gophers coaching staff is a key element in their continued success. In his first five seasons, head coach Brad Frost has accumulated 145 wins for a career winning percentage of .777. Having coached multiple All-Americans (including Gigi Marvin, Kessel and Bozek), Frost is an outstanding motivator.
Assistant coach Joel Johnson (a future head coach in the making) is the defensive coach and is responsible for a Gophers squad that led the NCAA in scoring defense. Nadine Muzerall, another assistant coach who played on the Gophers first ever NCAA women’s hockey team, is the first superstar the program ever had. She was a key reason that the Gophers offense produced five skaters with at least 40 points each.
Although the Gophers make winning look easy, they are a fundamentally sound, well-conditioned team. Despite spending most of the last two seasons seeing Wisconsin ranked as the No. 1 team in the national polls, the Gophers always believed they were capable of being the better team. It is that confidence that places the Gophers in an opportunity to be part of the 2013 championship picture.