HAMDEN, CONN. – If Kelly Pannek has her way, the 2019-20 Gophers will keep the feeling of finishing second with them even if she won’t be there any longer.
“We gave it our all, and I hope that the underclassmen and the juniors take this feeling going forward because we haven’t had this feeling very much,” she said after Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Wisconsin in the national championship game. “That’s a really fortunate thing, but it’s also a very healthy thing as well,”
The Gophers will return much of their core next season, with several new faces coming onto a team that finished national runners-up.
Pannek, who will represent Team USA in this month’s World Championships, and seven other seniors graduate — forwards Tianna Gunderson, Jackie Pieper, Nicole Schammel and Taylor Williamson, defenders Sophie Skarzynski and Sierra Smith, and goalie Emma May.
While the seniors’ roles ranged from an Olympic gold medalist captain in Pannek to several whose ice time was sparing, each made an impact on the team’s culture, according to head coach Brad Frost. One such player was third-string goalie Emma May, whose presence in the locker room and bench was greatly felt.
“You look at Emma May on the bench, she’s an example of our whole senior class,” Frost said. “Incredibly positive person and that whole group has been great.”
Frost will need to replace three of the team’s top ten scorers, including leading point getter Schammel. Her 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) this season were second among WCHA players. The team will also miss Pannek centering a line with Sarah and Amy Potomak who frequently drew the assignment of other team’s top defensive pairs. Both players each had significant power play roles as well.
On the blue line, Skarzynski is the only senior defender who played regularly this season. The Lake Forest, Ill., native spent her first three seasons shuffling between defense and forward and was a forward for her entire junior season. However, this season she was able to use her offensive talents on defense.
The Gophers do return six of the team’s top-nine forwards along with an all-freshmen fourth line of Abigail Boreen, Catie Skaja and Emily Oden, who will be rising sophomores.
Minnesota gets back both Potomak sisters as well, which should help cushion the blow of losing Pannek and Schammel. Both Potomaks were among the final cuts to Canada’s 2018 Olympic team. Sarah will be a redshirt senior while Amy will be a redshirt sophomore whose four power play goals will be the second-most among returning players.
Sophomore Grace Zumwinkle also took a major step forward this season, scoring 25 goals and utilizing her shot more throughout the year. Taylor Heise’s 13 goals as a freshman return, too.
Led by senior Patti Marshall and rising juniors Emily Brown and Olivia Knowles, the majority of Minnesota’s blue line also stays.
Perhaps the biggest returns will be both members of the Gopher goaltending core. Frost started the year looking for either Alex Gulstene or Sydney Scobee to take the reins. Both did. Outside a stretch in November when Scobee was injured, the duo started a game each weekend. Normally, Gulstene was Game 1 and Scobee was Game 2 before his decision Sunday to start Gulstene against Wisconsin.
“Both goalies were very deserving of the start on Friday [against Cornell],” Frost said. “Sydney played well against Princeton [in the NCAA quarterfinals], but Alex has played well all year and what it really came down to in my gut was that she had played on big stages before with the [U.S.] U-18 team and had won some gold medals.
“I just felt like she would be comfortable in the moment, and when you pitch a shutout in the semifinal, it’s generally the right person to go back to. And I thought she was really good [against Wisconsin].
Who’s coming in?
Minnesota had three players sign national letters of intent during the November signing period. One, Makayla Pahl, is a goalie.
Pahl, a Rochester native, won a gold medal with the 2018 U.S. U-18 World Championship team coached by Gopher associate coach Joel Johnson. She spent her junior year of high school with the Rochester Mayo boys team before going back to playing with the girls team.
Minnesota also has 2018 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Madeline Wethington and White Bear Lake forward Sydney Shearen coming in for 2019-20. Wethington, a defender, is seen as an elite talent in women’s hockey and has the potential to be a number one blue liner as a Gopher. She is one of the few players who have won three U-18 World Championship gold medals despite aging out of the competition this year while being a high school senior at Blake. Shearen has won two of those of those same gold medals.