Lingering concussion symptoms will keep Olympian and former college national player of the year Amanda Kessel from returning to the Gophers women’s hockey team for her senior season this fall.
The forward from Madison, Wis., suffered the injury leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Gophers women’s coach Brad Frost said.
She was cleared by doctors to compete with the U.S. team in Sochi and had hopes of returning to the Gophers, but the injury lingered. Kessel and doctors determined that dedicating all of her time to recovery would be in her best interest.
“We knew she wasn’t at full strength the last couple of months,” Frost said. “It’s best for her to try and recover away from college, and we’ve been planning for that. Any time you lose arguably the top player in the country it makes it more difficult, but now we can focus on the players and team that we have and make a run at a national championship.”
Kessel has been working with doctors at the Carrick Brain Center in Atlanta and will continue to receive treatment this fall and winter. She is not enrolled in classes this semester and her status for the spring semester is still in question.
Kessel and defenseman Lee Stecklein both left the Gophers last season for a chance to compete with the U.S. women’s national team. She contributed three goals and three assists in five games during a silver-medal run in Sochi.
The Gophers, without Kessel and Stecklein, were national runners-up last season, losing in the title game 5-4 to Clarkson.
Kessel led women’s college hockey in scoring as a junior in 2012-2013 and helped lead the program to its fifth national championship during a perfect 41-0-0 season. The 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) were a career high and good enough to earn her nearly every top player award, including the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. She ranks fourth among Gophers all-time scorers with 231 points.
“I’ve had an unforgettable experience at the University of Minnesota thus far, so I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to return to the team this year,” Kessel said in a statement. “It’s obviously a difficult decision and one that I’ve taken time to come to terms with. As someone who has played through a lot of injuries, it wasn’t until suffering a concussion that I fully understood the importance of being 100 percent healthy when I’m on the ice. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case right now.
“My No. 1 priority is my health, and I hope that I’ll be able to return to the ice in the future. I want to thank my coaches, teammates and everyone at the university for their support.”
Kessel would need to request a waiver from the NCAA to play next season if healthy and would be a likely candidate to compete for the U.S. national team in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
She is the third player in the past five years that Frost has lost to concussions. Forward Ashley Stenerson and goaltender Alyssa Grogan had their careers cut short after suffering a concussion. Stenerson had to quit after her freshman season and Grogan missed her final 16 months.
“Certainly concussions are being noticed a lot more regularly and diagnosed a lot more regularly, nowadays. It’s definitely a concern,” Frost said. “It’s becoming more prevalent [on all levels].”
Senior defenseman Rachel Ramsey said she has suffered minor concussions and witnessed others suffer the result of head injuries long after hockey. Some days you feel great, she said, and some days you don’t.
Ramsey expects the team to rally together the same way they did last season when Kessel and Stecklein were gone.
Stecklein, a sophomore from Roseville who has rejoined the Gophers, said the U.S. national team tryout process was strenuous, but Kessel always found a way to skate and appeared healthy throughout the Olympics. Kessel sat out most of the pre-Olympic tour nursing a hip that required surgery in 2012. However, Stecklein said she remembers Kessel saying she hit her head and the effects started to flare up a few days after the initial injury. Stecklein wasn’t sure when the injury occurred.
“Concussions are just a tricky thing, and they affect everybody different,” Stecklein said. “I just know it’s affecting her in a way she can’t even be at school, so it’s important they do everything they can to get her healthy for life. For a concussion to last this long is a scary thing. We want her to get healthy again.”