SOCHI, RUSSIA – U.S. women’s hockey coach Katey Stone had promised that Amanda Kessel would be ready when the Olympic tournament begins Saturday. The Gophers forward sat out all 10 of the Americans’ international games this season, staying at the team’s home base in Boston to recover from a lower-body injury.
Thursday, Kessel said she is back to full strength — just in time for the U.S. to face Finland in the opening game of the women’s competition. With former Gophers goalie Noora Raty in the net, the Finns scored a major upset over the Americans in last November’s Four Nations tournament. Kessel’s return should give the U.S. a boost as it seeks Olympic gold for the first time since 1998.
“I’m feeling good,” said Kessel, who amassed 101 points last season for the Gophers and scored the winning goal against Canada in the gold medal game at the 2013 world championships. “The preliminary round will be huge for me, just to get some games against girls’ teams. The first couple days were a little rough for the team as we were getting our legs, but I think we’re looking pretty sharp now.”
Kessel’s injury is related to an offseason hip surgery she underwent in 2012. The only games she has played this season were against boys’ teams in the Boston area, where the Americans have lived and trained the past five months.
At the Olympics, she will be reunited with linemates Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne on one of the most potent lines in women’s hockey. Kessel said she may take slightly shorter shifts and try to manage her exertion in her return, but she expects everything else to be the same.
That is welcome news for Stone, who lauded Kessel as a player who has yet to reach her peak. “This is just the beginning of what we’re going to see,” she said. “[Amanda] floats on the ice. She has little, simple nuanced moves with her stick that can shake off pressure, and she’s an unbelievable playmaker. She is completely in control.”