The Gophers women had 41 straight answers last year for their opponents, making a path all the way to a second straight NCAA title. Now with a new look team coming into this season, we have to wonder how far the winning attitude in Minnesota stays. Let's see the top five questions entering this season...
- How long will the undefeated streak last? You have to go back to February 17th of 2012 to find a loss. That day, North Dakota came into town and stole a win in overtime, 2-1, over the Gophers. It's been 49 straight wins since then and still going strong. The schedule brings an interesting foe to town in the second weekend of the year in Wisconsin. This is not the Bucky team of dominance we knew with the likes of Hillary Knight and Brianna Decker. Those players are now gone. They still have a top notch head coach and arguably the best goalie in the WCHA in Alex Rigsby. This will be the first test. Then they go on the road for two series with UMD up first followed by Bemidji State. The Bulldogs are always dangerous and have a hot new goaltender in Kayla Black. The Beavers have also been giant killers in recent seasons and pushed the Gophers to the brink late in the season last year. Neither team will be easy to sweep. My guess comes at the Ohio State series in early December. There are a lot of variables, but this seems to be the spot where OSU can be very tough at home.
- Who takes over for Noora Raty? The Gophers have three goalies on the roster. Junior Shyler Sletta, Sophomore Amanda Leveille, and freshman Sidney Peters. Leveille has to be the front runner as of now, but don't sleep on Peters. She was with the U-18's on Team USA and has nice size at 5 foot 10. In the little action she saw last season, Leveille had a perfect record at 3-0 and had three shutouts. She has not allowed a goal in her college career. Sletta has not either, but has not seen action since her freshman year. My guess is Leveille is option 1A and Peters 1B.
- Does Hannah Brandt struggle without Amanda Kessel? Hannah had a better year than even the biggest fans of hers would have expected. She contributed 33 goals and 82 points in her first season playing college hockey. She seemed to play well with Amanda Kessel, and those two seemed to feed off each other all season. Kessel will not be around this season, choosing to work with Team USA to bring a gold medal home in light of the 2014 winter games. Last year, some injuries late in the season kept Kessel off the ice. The team seemed to struggle offensively without Kessel in the lineup. So, much like Decker's stats took a big hit when Knight left school, will Brandt's numbers do the same drop off?
- Will the defense be a liability? For the first time in many years, coach Brad Frost doesn't have a deep defensive unit. The reasons are two-fold. He recent years he has lost All-Americans Anne Schleper and Megan Bozek. He also saw Mira Jalosuo graduate. That's a lot of height lost and a lot of production lost. Also, Lee Stecklein, the young talent from Roseville high school will take the year off to focus on the Olympics. This will be the big challenge for coach Frost. They bring in Kelsey Kline and Paige Haley, who played at Bloomington Jefferson and Red Wing high schools last season. Haley is an offensive talent who scored a lot in high school. Kline was also offensive minded and is considered a 'smart' defenseman. The Gophers will still have Rachel Ramsey and Milica McMillen to lean on. These are two very talented women. McMillen really has a chance to be one of the best Minnesota has ever seen at her position. Baylee Gillanders will be a senior this season and will need to be the veteran of the group and really try to put the freshman under her wing. Minnesota will also have to rely on Jordyn Burns to fill out the final defensive spot. It will be interesting to see the pairings.
- Which freshman will have the biggest impact? I have already talked about the two defenseman and the one goalie that are incoming freshman, but what about the forwards? Well they bring in four very talented forwards to this class. Dani Cameranesi, Megan Wolfe, Kate Flug, and Kate Schipper are all from the U-18 USA hockey program. They were all big time scorers in high school as well. This group of forwards has a good mix of speed and power. I think the Gophers will get a lot of help on the draw from these forwards as well. Cameranesi seems to be the player that really sticks out to me and can really take over a game. I see her as being the most productive and most talked about freshman in this class.
Do you have burning questions? Let's hear them?
Thanks for reading!