Amanda Kessel is expected to make her official return to college hockey tonight at Ridder Arena when the No. 3 Gophers host No. 8 North Dakota. The team announced Wednesday that Kessel had been cleared by doctors to finish her final year of eligibility and skate with the Gophers once again.
(The games aren't on free or cable TV, but can be watched by purchasing a subscription to BTN Plus.)
Kessel’s return to the women’s hockey program is arguably one of the biggest headlines in the sport this year. Here’s why:
-- Kessel is a former Olympian and silver medalist. She represented the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where she tallied six points (three goals, three assists) in five games. She scored a goal and assist in the semifinal, 6-1, victory over Sweden.
-- Kessel was the best player in college hockey three seasons ago. She helped lead the Gophers to an unprecedented 41-0-0 run to a national championship. Kessel finished the season with a career-high 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) and earned several top player honors including the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. She has 231 career points and needs 16 points to move into second all-time in program history.
-- The Gophers (24-3-0) are ranked No. 3 in the most recent USCHO poll. Undefeated Boston College (27-0-0) is No. 1 and WCHA rival Wisconsin (26-1-1) is No. 2. Kessel could be the spark that the Gophers need to propel back to No. 1 and retake control of the conference. Wisconsin swept the Gophers in Madison earlier this season.
-- Kessel’s college career appeared to be over in July. Gophers coach Brad Frost announced Kessel wouldn’t return for the 2015-2016 season because of lingering concussion effects from her time playing for the U.S. Olympic Team. She was cleared to finish the Olympics, but then sat out the 2014-2015 season with lingering symptoms. However, she enrolled in classes this academic year and began skating with the team around the New Year.
-- Coach Brad Frost said “Amanda was the best player in the world when she played here last. So it’s one of those things where we have always wanted her to get as healthy as possible, and that’s the continued hope for her.” Yes, Kessel hasn’t played a game since February 2014, but she now has the experience of playing in the Olympics and if she plays with even half of the skill she had two years ago, she’ll be a big addition in the Gophers’ quest for back-to-back national titles.