Whether she’s scoring a goal or stumbling off the bus, Hannah Brandt has become the hockey equivalent of Yogi Berra — short in stature, long on talent, and perfectly willing to laugh at herself.
“I’ve never been the most graceful player, to say the least,” said Brandt, who leads the top-ranked Gophers and women’s college hockey in scoring.
Teammates love teasing the 5-6 sophomore about things she says or her propensity to fall, on and off the ice. These running jokes are among the ways the Gophers have lightened the tension during their quest for a third consecutive NCAA title.
The Women’s Frozen Four opens Friday in Hamden, Conn., with the Gophers playing Wisconsin in Friday’s first semifinal. The winner will face either Clarkson or Mercyhurst in Sunday’s championship.
With her NCAA-best 63 points (22 goals, 41 assists), Brandt is one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which honors the nation’s top player. That ceremony is Saturday morning.
“I was just with her the other night, and she was like, ‘I guess I have to be prepared to give a speech if I win, but I’m sure I won’t win,’ ” said Brandt’s linemate Meghan Lorence. “I was like, ‘Hannah, are you kidding? You need a speech prepared.’ ”
Hill Murray coach Bill Schafhauser heard that story and said, “Sounds familiar.”
Brandt, who made Hill Murray’s varsity team as an eighth-grader, won the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award in 2012 and needed prompting to write that speech, too.
“She’s a great student,” Schafhauser said. “So it doesn’t take her long to get her thoughts together and do a good job.”
The Gophers (37-1-1) have a big night ahead of them first. They won all four games against Wisconsin (28-7-2) this year, but two of those were decided by one goal.
This isn’t like last year, when the Gophers were building their record streak of 62 victories in a row and runaway favorites to win the title at Ridder Arena. They did just that, finishing the season 41-0.
That team had all three Kazmaier finalists: winner Amanda Kessel, defensemen Megan Bozek and goaltender Noora Raty. Kessel led the country with 101 points, and playing on her line, Brandt was second with 82 points. Kessel and defenseman Lee Stecklein plan to return to the Gophers next season, but they took this year off to play for the U.S. Olympic team. Brandt joined them at the Olympic tryout camp last June but didn’t make the cut.
“Speed is probably the biggest thing, and she’s improved that already,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “For me, if I need somebody on the ice either to defend or score us a big goal, it’d be Hannah. She’s just that complete hockey player.”
Brandt said it took her about a week to get over her Olympic disappointment.
“After that, I was just happy for my teammates who made it,” she said. “And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but with this team right now.”
One glance at Brandt’s Twitter account (@HannahBrandt16) shows how much fun she’s having. It features a sampling of Hannahisms, such as this tweet: “At least 50% of the time I lose my phone it’s in my hand.”
There also was the time she asked her teammates, “Guys, what if we woke up dead?”
If those sound like Yogi-isms, don’t forget that Berra was an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series champion for the Yankees who eventually became the team’s manager.
Brandt is an A student who’s studying to become a nurse, though she admits, “Some of the things I say and do, you wouldn’t expect that. I tend to speak before I think, so people quote me all the time.”
Asked for her favorite Brandt story, Lorence paused and said, “There are so many. … She definitely has the most embarrassing moments on the team.”
Stecklein captured one on videotape. She went Halloween costume shopping with Brandt and Gophers captain Bethany Brausen last fall. Brausen grabbed an ugly mask and hid behind a corner, and Stecklein grabbed her cellphone to start videotaping.
When Brandt came around the corner, she saw Brausen’s mask and collapsed in fear.
“She said, ‘I think someone hit me,’ ” Stecklein said. “And I was like, ‘No, Hannah, you fell.’ ”
Lorence recently sent Brandt a collage filled with photos of some of her most spectacular falls. She sprinkled in a few photos of herself falling, along with linemate Maryanne Menefee’s stumbles, too.
That trio has combined up 56 goals this season, but they call themselves The Awkward Line.
“We can make some pretty plays, but then we’ll also look like a bunch of clowns out there,” Brandt said.
With Brandt providing the thrills and spills, the Gophers hope to keep laughing all the way to another championship.
Follow Joe Christensen on Twitter to stay updated with the Gophers in Connecticut: @JoeCStrib