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Kaz Watch: Hannah Brandt stays golden as Gophers sophomore

01/28/2014, 10:30am MST
By Doug Williams - Special to USAHockey.com

So what is Hannah Brandt supposed to do for an encore?

Brandt’s freshman season at the University of Minnesota was about as sweet as it could be.

She came to play for her home-state university from Vadnais Heights as the most acclaimed high school player, Minnesota’s Ms. Hockey for 2012. Then, in her very first game, she scored a hat trick. She played all 41 games of the Gophers’ dream 41-0-0 NCAA championship season. And, playing on the same line as Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel, Brandt scored 33 goals, had 49 assists and finished as the No. 2 scorer in the nation — behind only Kessel.

“It was definitely a perfect season,” Brandt said. “I would have never expected coming in to have anything like that. I think it was a surprise to everyone, but we enjoyed it so much and I’ll never forget last year.”

Brandt, 20, said she came into her freshman season just hoping to play and make some kind of a positive impact. But her learning curve took a sharp upward spike just by playing with Kessel, whom she calls “the best player in the world.”

The two players both love to pass the puck, and Brandt says that playing alongside Kessel all season was like a daily clinic. Their chemistry clicked, and Brandt says now that “playing with her obviously was the main reason I was so successful last year.”

In Brandt’s college debut, against Colgate University, she scored three goals. The next day, she had two goals and four assists in a second win over the Raiders.

After that first series, Brandt told a reporter she just happened to be “in the right place at the right time,” but Minnesota coach Brad Frost gave her a little more credit.

“She just puts herself in the right spots, and then when she gets it, she’s just got a fantastic release, great vision as we’ve seen the first two games, and obviously can score some big goals,” he said.

And, she never let up. She scored a goal in the victory over the rival University of North Dakota to send the Gophers to the Frozen Four, then added a goal each in Frozen Four victories over Boston College and Boston University to help Minnesota claim its fourth women’s NCAA championship and secure an undefeated season.

Her 82 points were a Gophers’ freshman record, she was named to the Frozen Four All-Tournament Team and was selected Western Collegiate Hockey Association Rookie of the Year and to the WCHA first team.

Now in her second season, Brandt has skated right past any prospect of a sophomore slump.

Selected as WCHA Preseason Player of the Year — Kessel, a senior, is taking a break from school to play on the U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi — Brandt is No. 2 in the nation in scoring with 41 points in 26 games. She’s also No. 1 in assists (27) for a Minnesota squad that is 24-1-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country.

Brandt came into this season hoping to be a better player than she was last season. Over the offseason she put in work to get faster on the ice — “I’m always trying to get faster, that’s the one thing I’ll always do,” she said — and “see the ice better.”

She put in time in the weight room and with off-ice sprinting, while also working on improving her skating stride. As for her vision on the ice, she says it’s actually one of her strengths — but something she needs to constantly improve.

She says it’s still a bit of a shock to her to look at the national stats and see her name up at the top of the scoring list.

“It surprises me because I haven’t felt like I’ve had that strong of a year offensively,” she said. “But I guess it’s pretty cool. I have to thank my teammates for helping me out and giving me the puck and scoring when I give it to them.”

It’s her passing, in fact, that gives her the most satisfaction. She says it’s always great to score a goal, but it’s skating up the ice and feeding a teammate that is the most fun.

“I enjoy it a lot more than scoring goals,” she said.

Brandt developed that love of passing while growing up on the ice with her sister Marissa, a year older, who’s now a defenseman for Gustavus Adolphus College, a southern Minnesota school that boasts one of the nation’s top NCAA Division III programs.

“I played with my sister growing up a lot, and we had a really good connection for whatever reason, not sure if it was a sister connection, but I think just playing with her growing up we passed it a lot and I always looked to pass before I looked to shoot,” Hannah said. “That continued on through high school with my sister to college to playing with Amanda Kessel. Both of us like to pass it a lot. Sometimes we’d get in trouble for passing too much.”

Brandt, who’s majoring in health and wellness and has plans to go to nursing school after she graduates, is happy with the way the Gophers have come together this season after losing some very important players from last season’s championship team.

“We weren’t going to try to compare ourselves to last year’s team, because that’s just not possible,” she said. “We’re just going to try to be the best team we can be at the end.”

From what she’s seen, though, that might mean another championship.

“If we keep improving as we have been, that’s definitely a possibility,” she said. “Where we want to be at the end of the year is holding that trophy.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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