In 41 games as a sophomore, Rachael Bona scored 14 goals for the University of Minnesota’s women’s hockey team.
After two games of her junior season, she already had scored four times and added three assists as the two-time defending champions started the year with a pair of victories over Colgate University to run their winning streak to 51 games.
For both Bona and Minnesota, it was a sign of things to come.
This season Bona, a 5-foot-5 forward, ranks as the No. 3 scorer in the nation with 55 points (20 goals and 35 assists) for the Golden Gophers, who are 34-1-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Though Minnesota lost some terrific talent off last season’s championship team — as well as standout forward Amanda Kessel, who took a season off to play for the U.S. Olympic Team — the Gophers have been on a roll. And Bona has been one of the big reasons.
“Rachael has taken her game to a whole other level this season,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said recently. “She has become a complete hockey player who has a knack for the net. Rachael shoots the puck at a rapid rate and can fit the puck into tight spaces before defensemen or goaltenders have the chance to react.”
Frost also credited Bona with big contributions on the power play and penalty kill, and added, “The consistency at which she is producing as an offensive threat is impressive.”
Bona’s offensive improvement was one of her goals coming into the season. With so much talent departing, she wanted to raise her game across the board. She hoped to put more focus on her play in the defensive zone, but she also was determined to be a better passer and scorer.
“I had a lot of chances in the past two seasons to score and it just wasn’t really clicking for me,” she said. “I think I’ve scored more goals than I have in the past two years, and that’s helped.”
In her first two seasons, Bona had a combined 47 points. This season, she’s surpassed that by eight.
“I thought I improved from my freshman to my sophomore year as well,” she said. “I just wanted to keep improving and having a better impact for our team.”
She’s equally happy about making strides on defense. Now, she says, she gets as excited about making a good defensive play, blocking a shot or killing a penalty as she does scoring a goal.
All the hard work has not only helped the Gophers — who lead the nation in team offense and team defense — but shined some attention on Bona, too.
This past week she was named one of the 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is given annually to the best player in women’s college hockey. This year’s award will be presented on March 22 at the women’s Frozen Four weekend.
Bona’s teammate, sophomore forward Hannah Brandt, No. 1 in points nationally, also is one of the 10 finalists.
Though Bona still is working to improve, she’s satisfied with the strides she’s made this season.
“I think I’m finally becoming the player I always thought I could be at this level,” she said.
And to be doing it at Minnesota is a blessing.
Bona is from Coon Rapids, Minn., and had long dreamed of playing for the Gophers. The fact she’s playing and contributing to the team she rooted for as a girl is “all I hoped it could be and more.”
She grew up playing boys’ hockey and has brought a tenacious style of play to the Gophers — something she attributes to all those years learning to survive against the boys.
“Back then you could check in Peewees and I played Peewees. So I think just learning to skate with your head up because, obviously, I was a girl and I was playing boys’ hockey and I had my hair coming out of my helmet and they all wanted to nail me,” she said, laughing. “So I always had to have my head up, and I think that’s just transferred over.”
Now she and her teammates all have their heads up, looking toward a possible third straight NCAA championship. As the season has unfolded, Bona believes more strongly that Minnesota can do it.
“Our goalie, Amanda [Leveille] is playing well, our defense is picking up and obviously we’ve been putting the puck in the net,” she said. “I definitely think we’ve continued to improve and we’re at our peak right now. We’re playing really well.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): Kaz Watch