In 2013, the Minnesota men’s and women’s hockey teams have seen their fair share of ups and downs. As the calendar rolls over to 2014, let’s look ahead and find things that we have to look forward to in the world of Golden Gophers hockey.
Star players leading the charge
In February 2014, we’ll be introduced to the “year of the horse” and with it, plenty of thoroughbreds to ride into the playoffs. Minnesota hockey has some gifted horses to carry these teams to national championships. Players that are dependable, hard working, and strong. On the men’s side, Seth Ambroz and Nate Condon. On the women’s side, Hannah Brandt and Rachel Ramsey. These players will lead their teams to great things.
Rematch against North Dakota
The men’s team may not have the University of North Dakota on their schedule, but a rematch in Grand Forks awaits head coach Brad Frost’s team on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. The team that ended “the streak” at Ridder Arena earlier this season should will be a big game to look forward to.
Former Gophers in Olympics
With the winter Olympics looming, Minnesota hockey on the men’s and women’s side should get a nice national boost of exposure. Maroon and Gold alums Nick Bjugstad, Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Kyle Okposo, and Blake Wheeler were all a part of the men’s team evaluation camp this August and you can expect at least three will make the team. Kessel is the strongest lock to land on Team U.S.A. squad and will likely join his sister Amanda in Sochi, Russia for the games.
Gophers women in Sochi
Though the men’s Olympic team might get the most television exposure in Sochi, the women’s team will best represent the University of Minnesota. In addition to Amanda Kessel, the Golden Gophers will probably have at least one current or former player on the ice at all times. With four defenders on the roster that represent Minnesota, you can bet Megan Bozek, Gigi Marvin, Anne Schleper, or Lee Stecklein will be on the ice shutting down the world. The Minnesota ties don’t end with the Americans as Mira Jalosuo and Noora Raty both made the Team Finland roster.
With the Big Ten Hockey Conference, local hockey fans that have been used to seeing the men’s team line up against in-state rivals over the years will get a brief reunion in the North Star College Cup at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Minnesota was able to keep Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato on their regular season schedule, but the game against St. Cloud State on Jan. 24 will be the only matchup in the regular season against the Huskies. Not really sure the level of excitement across the state for the event, but let’s give it a chance and see what it can bring to Minnesota hockey as a whole.
Big Ten Hockey Tournament
Keeping up with the Xcel Energy Center theme, the Big Ten hockey tournament will make its inaugural launch in March in St. Paul. With the Gophers sitting at the top of the conference standings to this point of the season, it will be a nice bump to get a bye through the quarterfinals by being a top-two seed.
Outdoor hockey returns
It’s been a long time since outdoor hockey has been on campus. Norwood Teague and his staff made it a point of emphasis when they took over the department and they’ll finally get their games at TCF Bank Stadium on Jan. 17. The Hockey City Classic could easily have filled all 10 spots on this list, but just know that Gold and Gopher will have you covered leading up to and throughout the women’s game against Minnesota State-Mankato and the men’s game against Ohio State.
Return of Amanda Kessel
With one year of eligibility remaining, the reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner has said that she will return to the Gophers after the Sochi Olympics. Though injuries have plagued Kessel throughout last year, she will hopefully use the summer of 2014 to rest up and recharge her batteries in order to return as the most prolific scorer in Minnesota women’s hockey history. She currently sits in fourth place on the all-time scoring list and trails Natalie Darwitz by just 15 points.
Two No. 1 rankings
Both teams will enter the new year as the No. 1 ranked teams in the nation. Don’t expect that to change. An NCAA tournament run for both teams is highly likely and the Wisconsin Badgers are the only school to have won both the men’s and women’s national titles in the same season, doing so in 2006. Minnesota will look to accomplish that task in Hamden, Conn. for the women and Philadelphia for the men in 2014.
Each season, Minnesota hockey welcomes a new set of recruits to Dinkytown. It’s unclear who will be incoming next season for both programs, but if they’re able to contribute like the 2013 freshmen have thus far, things should be good for Frost and Don Lucia heading forward. A couple recruits to watch for on the men’s side — the defensive tandem of Ryan Collins and Jack Glover. On the women’s side, Sydney Baldwin of Minnetonka.