Last season, when three Gophers forwards took a leave from college hockey to pursue their Olympic dreams, Nicole Schammel stepped up to fill the gap. As much as coach Brad Frost appreciated that, he also wondered how she would respond when her teammates returned.
Schammel didn’t change a thing. The redshirt senior kept right on scoring, anchoring the Gophers’ most reliable line with the most productive season of her career. After leading the team with 12 goals and 30 assists during the regular season, Schammel is aiming to finish with a flourish, as the Gophers start postseason play Saturday against Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals at Ridder Arena.
With Kelly Pannek, Sarah Potomak and Amy Potomak absent last season, Schammel got an expanded role and gained confidence. That carried into this season, when she was one of 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the nation’s top college women’s player.
“All of us knew, especially the older girls, that everyone had to step up and contribute last year,’’ said Schammel, who played one season at Minnesota State Mankato before transferring to the U. “I just wanted to be part of that.
“Getting that confidence, knowing I could be a contributor for this team at this level, that goes a long way. That was the biggest thing I added to my game. And I just wanted to keep elevating this year.’’
That’s what Frost was hoping to see from one of the most prolific scorers in state high school girls’ history. Schammel finished her career at Red Wing High School with 457 points, second only to Natalie Darwitz’s 468.
“The last two years, she’s been one of the best players in the country,’’ Frost said. “Last year, we weren’t sure where the goals were going to be coming from. She really helped carry us.
“But your biggest fear as a coach is, now we’re getting these Olympic and national team players back, and we don’t want anyone to say, ‘Now we can relax.’ What’s been great is that her line has been our most consistent line all year, and Nicole has been one of our most consistent players.’’
After her transfer, Schammel had to sit out a year because she was joining another WCHA team. When she debuted with the Gophers in 2016-17, she had to prove to Frost that she could do more than score.
Schammel finished with just six goals and six assists while developing into a dependable two-way player. She more than doubled that output last season, logging 32 points on a line with Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Wente. That trio’s chemistry has continued to grow; Schammel has 12 multipoint games this year, a team high, and has scored at least one point in 27 of 34 games.
She has continued to develop her all-around game, Frost said, becoming a reliable penalty killer and defensive presence in late-game situations. Though her time at the U is growing short, Schammel wants to squeeze out even more improvement, to keep her final season going as long as possible.
“It went by really fast,’’ she said. “Playing here has been everything I dreamed of, and more.’’