It made sense for Gophers women’s hockey coach Brad Frost to declare at Tuesday’s media day that his team would lose a game this season. He began last season’s campaign with the same statement and the team went 41-0.
Playing to perfection again, though, likely won’t be as easy. The Gophers lost six players to graduation and are without two other standouts. Forward Amanda Kessel, the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, and defenseman Lee Stecklein are among 25 players competing for spots on the U.S. women’s team in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“We obviously lost a lot from last year,” Frost said. “But we’ve got a great opportunity with a lot of our returners and some of freshmen to step up and fulfill some roles that maybe they haven’t been in.
“It’s not about going undefeated. It’s about improving throughout the year, and I would expect us to be a much better team five months from now than we are right now.”
Frost prepared for the departures by bringing in seven freshmen. His usual recruiting class is four or five. Even with the slew of newcomers, the Gophers lack depth — especially among defensemen. Frost said his team’s biggest asset early on last season was depth.
Now he is dealing with transitioning forwards to defense and replacing Noora Raty, a four-year starter, in goal. Raty was 38-0 with a 0.96 goals-against average last season.
Sophomore Brook Garzone and junior Jordyn Burns are among those likely to switch to defense. Exhibition games against Team Japan and the British Columbia on Thursday and Friday, respectively, will be good opportunities to find the right combinations, Frost said.
Both 7 p.m. games at Ridder Arena are free to the public.
“For our junior class to be stepping up is key,” Rachel Ramsey said. “I’m the only junior defenseman. We have three returning on defense. I think it’s a little pressure to step up and perform, but at the same time more so to be a guide to everybody else who is coming back and learning the position.”
Despite their player losses, the Gophers were one vote shy of entering the season as a unanimous No. 1 in two different preseason polls. The program has won back-to-back national championships, while sophomore forward Hannah Brandt was named the preseason WCHA Player of the Year by the league’s coaches.
Minnesota also welcomes one of the top recruiting classes in the country led by Dani Cameranesi, the Star Tribune’s 2013 Metro Player of the Year. The Blake standout was named preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year.
“If I just keep playing my game and doing everything I’m being taught, hopefully I can live up to [those expectations],” Cameranesi said.