Before every game, Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel draws an arrow on her left hand. She started doing it last season and now can’t possibly stop.
“It’s more like a superstition now,” she says, laughing. “It’s like I have to do it now. I freak out if it’s not there.”
She drew the first arrow as a reminder to stay positive and to keep moving forward, having in the past often been her own worst critic.
Now that she and her teammates are the hottest thing in college hockey, she’s not about to go out on the ice without her good-luck charm.
“I don’t want to change,” she says.
Who could blame her?
This season, the Golden Gophers became the first team in NCAA Division I women’s college hockey to go through a regular season undefeated, compiling a 34-0-0 record. Minnesota, the defending NCAA champion and No. 1 ranked team in the nation, then swept Bemidji State in two games this past weekend in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs to run its unbeaten streak to 43 games, dating to last season.
Over the course of the past two magical seasons at Minnesota, Kessel has been a vital ingredient in the winning formula.
Last season as a sophomore, Kessel’s 80 points (32 goals, 48 assists) ranked third nationally and first on the Gophers. She was a second-team All-American, a member of the Frozen Four all-tournament team and a top 10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the nation’s best player.
This season, Kessel is the runaway national scoring leader in points (94), goals (43), assists (51) and points per game (2.85), as well as a top 10 Kazmaier finalist again. She could become just the fourth player in Division I ever to have a 100-point season (the record is 114, held by former Gopher Natalie Darwitz).
Kessel’s quickness, game awareness and overall talents have turned her into a force on the ice — and she still will have another season at Minnesota after this one.
“I feel like, in a couple of years or the next year, she’s going to be one of the best players in the world,” said Minnesota (and Finland Olympic) goaltender Noora Raty of Kessel earlier this season. “She’s definitely special. Her speed, I’ve never seen anything like that in women’s hockey.”
This season, too, Kessel has been paired with fabulous freshman Hannah Brandt, who ranks No. 3 in the nation in points (77). Their chemistry on the same line has helped raise both their games, Kessel said.
Though this is their first season together, they immediately clicked.
“She has great vision and she’s always in the right place, and so whether she’s finding me or I’m finding her, it just seems to come easy,” Kessel said.
The fact Kessel has so many goals this season is a bit surprising to her, but she chalks it up to the fact she plays on a great team with players who get her the puck in good spots.
“I thought of myself more as a passer, but this year, I guess, I’m bearing down more as a scorer,” she said.
Plus, she said playing on a talented team makes everyone’s job easier — and tougher for opponents.
“It’s nothing I expected, to have this great of a season, but having as good of a team as we do makes it easier on me,” Kessel said. “It’s such a deep team. Come playoff time, one person can’t be scoring all the goals and I think a deeper team, a championship team … we’ve got three solid lines that can score, and the defense produces a lot, too.”
The undefeated season — following an NCAA championship — has been more than she ever anticipated.
“It’s crazy right now,” she said. “We’ve got everyone playing great and we have one of the best goaltenders in the world. Our defense is solid. … We just have a fun team that makes it easy going to the rink every day.”
This season’s success has been a pleasant surprise for another reason, too.
Last June, Kessel had surgery on her right hip. In a game late last season she says she “felt my hip go,” and a later MRI revealed she needed surgery. She was told she could play this season, but she’d feel pain and wouldn’t be back to 100 percent for about a year.
So, this season, she’s had to pace herself, take some days off from practice and get more rest.
“I came back pretty quickly,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d make the first couple of weeks of the season, but I made it back in time. It’s been tough dealing with this year, but we have a great staff here at Minnesota and they really help me out.
“There were weeks when I wasn’t practicing much, and our staff was really mindful of that and let me take rest when I needed it, so that helped.”
Now that arrow on Kessel’s left hand is pointing forward, into the postseason and toward a possible return to the Frozen Four and a second consecutive national title. She’s still thinking positive thoughts.
“It’s just crazy to think about going into a season thinking you’re not going to lose,” she said. “The point where we’re at, I think our team is pretty confident right now.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.