Women's Frozen Four: Two more games is all U senior asks for

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2012 - 7:16 AM

Defenseman Anne Schleper has played in 157 games for the Gophers. No. 158 is tonight; No. 159 would be Sunday for an NCAA championship.

Gophers senior defenseman Anne Schleper

DULUTH - When she heard the number, Anne Schleper seemed a bit startled. The Gophers senior has played in 157 games, the most of any player in Gophers women's hockey history.

Despite nagging wrist injuries the past two seasons, Schleper has never missed a game since coming to the Gophers from St. Cloud Cathedral High School in 2008. But that is not her proudest accomplishment. The defenseman has been one of the most enthusiastic volunteers in the Gophers' athletic department, logging dozens of hours of community service.

Two weeks ago, Schleper notched another career highlight as she helped the Gophers win the WCHA conference tournament for the first time since 2005. That leaves one more goal to pursue: an NCAA championship, beginning with Friday night's Frozen Four semifinal against Cornell.

"It goes by way too fast," said Schleper, an offensive-minded player whose 113 career points are the second-most by a Gophers defenseman. "I'm never one to think things like, 'This is my last practice at Ridder [Arena].' I just take it as it comes.

"In a couple of years, no one's going to remember how many points you had. Since my freshman year, I've wanted to make an impact off the ice as well. My goal has been to buy into the journey, to enjoy my whole experience at the U."

A three-sport athlete in high school, Schleper has not slowed down since committing herself solely to hockey. She has played with several U.S. national teams, including the under-18 team that won the 2008 world championship. Schleper is on the preliminary U.S. roster for the women's world championships and will head to a camp in two weeks, when the final roster will be determined for the April tournament.

She was part of the 2008-09 Gophers team that won the WCHA's regular-season championship, but she had to endure some challenges before she could help the Gophers win a league playoff title. The constant grind of her athletic life meant Schleper never had an offseason. When she hurt her wrist, she gritted her teeth and kept playing.

By the end of last season, she was in so much pain that she could not get through a practice without fighting back tears. Schleper forced herself to take last summer off, hoping that would help her heal.

"I had to be disciplined and obedient and really rest," she said. "And that doesn't mean for two weeks. It was frustrating at times, and I missed the ice a lot. But that made it even more exciting to get back for my senior year."

Despite the injuries, Schleper remained consistent. The WCHA Defensive Player of the Year in 2009-10 -- when she had a career-high 12 goals and 32 points -- she has been named first- or second-team All-WCHA in each of her four seasons. Schleper was a first-team selection this year and has five goals and 27 points while concentrating more on the defensive side of the game.

"She's been a stalwart," Gophers coach Brad Frost said. "She has a great shot and is very good offensively. And this year, she's been a phenomenal shutdown defenseman for us."

Schleper also has continued her volunteer work with elementary schools, the Boys and Girls Clubs and other children's organizations. She intends to keep that up as she chases her next goal of playing in an elite women's league and making the 2014 Olympic team.

But first things first. Schleper was named to the WCHA's all-tournament team two weeks ago, when she finally got that postseason trophy she wanted. When the Gophers' athletic staff gave the team a hearty send-off as it left for Duluth, she couldn't help but think about what it might be like to celebrate an NCAA championship.

"I think about it all the time," she said. "We've been fortunate to make the Frozen Four a few times in my career, but we've never done anything with it. This is our chance to bear down and get it done."

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