When the Gophers women's hockey team began practices earlier this month, coach Brad Frost gave his players one chance to relive last season's glory. At their first team meeting, he allowed them to watch a video of the Gophers' run to the NCAA championship, then put the DVD away for good.

Frost knows that living in the past only complicates the present. Winning their first NCAA title since 2005, he said, gives the Gophers a blueprint for success in the new season that begins Friday against Colgate at Ridder Arena. But he also has emphasized that keeping a crown can be far harder than taking it from someone else, particularly with significant changes on the roster.

The Gophers enter the season as the nation's top-ranked team in both polls and the favorite to win the WCHA title. With 15 returning players and seven new ones, they possess both continuity and depth. They also have, as Frost put it, an "M" on their chests and a target on their backs, adding a fresh twist to a season that will culminate with the Frozen Four at Ridder Arena in March.

"It was great to get the monkey off our back," junior forward Bethany Brausen said. "It's cool to know that feeling. But that was last year, and that's where it stays.

"It gives you something to strive for. We also need to know that isn't any indication of how this season will go. And it's going to be harder now, because we've got that big X on our back."

Brausen, who finished last season with six goals and three assists, is among the players Frost is counting on to fill the void left by Jen Schoullis, Sarah Erickson, Emily West and Anne Schleper. In their final season with the Gophers, those four players provided guidance, spirit and firepower, combining for 76 goals and playing with exceptional poise in the postseason.

Leading scorer Amanda Kessel returns, though she will play limited minutes this weekend as she continues recovering from hip surgery in June. Sarah Davis and Kelly Terry are participating in a Canadian national team camp and will miss the Colgate series; they, too, are gifted scorers expected to play greater roles in their junior season. Megan Bozek and Mira Jalosuo anchor a skilled, mobile defense that features five players who are 5 feet 10 or taller.

Goaltender Noora Raty, a two-time All-America and Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four, returns for her senior season a year after leading the nation with 10 shutouts. Frost said freshman Amanda Leveille has looked exceptional in practice and will get some playing time this season.

Other high-profile freshmen, including forward Hannah Brandt of Vadnais Heights (Hill-Murray High School) and defenseman Milica McMillen of St. Paul (Breck), also are expected to step in quickly. They will need to do so, Frost said, if the Gophers hope to repeat.

"People who think that's easy are nuts," he said. "Our players are very aware that it's going to be more difficult. We're going to have to be at our best every game."