U women's hockey team cruising in obscurity

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2012 - 8:35 PM

The Gophers women's hockey team is 16-0 and leads the nation in scoring. But where are the fans?

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Hannah Brandt, left, and Amanda Kessel

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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They're defending NCAA champions, winners of an NCAA-record 24 games in a row. And their level of dominance this year has been frankly, as even coach Brad Frost calls it, "ridiculous."

Sixteen wins. Zero losses. And a goal differential of 98 to ... 10!

That's why it irks the Gophers women's hockey coach that more patrons and media are not flocking to Ridder Arena.

"I know women's hockey is still pretty young in the grand scheme of things, but we're the State of Hockey," said Frost, in his 13th year with the program and fifth as head coach (161-36-16). "The product is fantastic. I feel like a lot of people may have watched girls' hockey and women's hockey when it first started 15 years ago and came to a game and saw the level and said, 'Man, I don't think I'm going to go back.'

"But the game has progressed immensely since then, and I think our players deserve more. They're elite athletes and it really is great hockey."

The top-ranked Gophers host border rival Wisconsin, ranked 10th, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. In an effort to break Ridder's almost six-year-old attendance record of 3,251, hockey fans can watch Saturday's game for only $1 (free, as always, for U of M students).

"The goal is to fill the building, give them a chance to watch some good hockey and keep them coming back," Frost said.

The Gophers lead the nation with a 6.12 goals-per-game average, a 0.62 goals-against average and .382 power-play percentage, which is on pace to shatter their own NCAA record.

Their only blemish? Their penalty kill somehow ranks only second in the country -- three-tenths behind Northeastern's 94.3 success rate. Of course, the Gophers' NCAA-best eight shorthanded goals (four by Amanda Kessel) make up for this penalty kill "imperfection."

"But as I continue to tell people, we have a long way to go," said Frost, proving he is a typical coach. "We haven't really accomplished anything yet."

Kessel and freshman Hannah Brandt, the former Minnesota Ms. Hockey and Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year from Hill-Murray, are 1-2 in the nation in scoring, with Kessel leading with 20 goals and 45 points and Brandt two points behind. Each is tied for the country's assists lead with 25.

"It's been awesome how quickly our chemistry has grown," said Kessel, who has 175 career points, 71 shy of Natalie Darwitz's team record. "It seems like we've been playing together for years."

Said Frost: "Amanda is legit -- one of the best players in the world. A lot like her brother [former Gopher Phil Kessel] and his skating style. She's very smooth, great speed, great quickness and very shifty. And she has an elite sense of the game. Hannah isn't going to blind you with her speed, but tremendous hands, great vision and her finish is pretty remarkable."

Captain Megan Bozek, an All-America pick last year, leads the nation in scoring from the blue line with 26 points.

"She's one of the best D in the country," Kessel said. "She has one of the hardest shots. In practice, I wouldn't want to get hit with that thing."

Frost calls goalie Noora Raty the team's "backbone." The two-time All-America is 14-0, leads the nation with a 0.77 goals-against average, a .961 save percentage and six shutouts. Raty is 10 wins short of the NCAA career record of 100.

Frost's only concern is that, as of now, the Gophers have not experienced any adversity. He says the "first adversity check" comes this weekend against the 10-4-2 Badgers.

"Everybody's talking about how good we are. What I'm trying to do as a coach is just remind our players it's a process," Frost said.

The Frozen Four is at Ridder on March 22-24. Asked if the Gophers can go undefeated, Kessel said: "I think it's a possibility, but it's probably near impossible. It's cool to win all these games, but the one that really matters is the [last one]."

  • GOPHER WOMEN VS. WISCONSIN

    2 p.m. Saturday • Ridder Arena • TV/radio: None

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