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Minnesota Hockey: Gopher Women Start Path Towards Another Natty

The #2 ranked Gophers raise last years NCAA Championship Banner tonight

Lee Stecklein will be on of three senior co-captains for the Gophers this season

Tonight starts the Gopher Women’s Hockey Team’s run for a third consecutive National Championship and their fifth in six seasons at Ridder Arena. The 2016-17 Gophers will still have several familiar faces, but in their most important position, its time for an arguably relatively untested junior to take the next step in her development.

The Gophers start the 2016-17 season as the #2 team in the nation, trailing only arch-rival Wisconsin. The Badgers were also predicted to win the WCHA this season, and they do on paper return the better team. But Minnesota knows that championships are not won on paper, but on ice.

Minnesota will rely early in the season on senior captains Dani Camaranesi and Lee Stecklein. Camaranesi returns as the highest returning scorer in all of college hockey—men’s or women’s. The 9th leading scorer in school history with a season yet to play, Camaranesi will be expected to add to her scoring punch to try and pick up from the loss of the two best scorers in Gopher Women’s Hockey history. Both Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel have graduated and moved on to playing professional women’s hockey with an eye on the 2018 Olympics. However Camaranesi was the teams leading scorer a year ago with 68 points and 33 goals, so its not like she is not allready playing at a high level. There is no reason to think that Camaranesi is not up to the task.

She won’t be alone in that goal of course. The Gophers return the 2015-16 National Freshman of the Year in Sarah Potomak for her sophomore season. Potomak was the third leading scorer on the Gophers last season, and Minnesota hopes that she can continue to grow as a player and become a lethal scoring threat.

Junior Kelly Pannek is another forward the Gophers will expect to step up in an even bigger role this season. The fourth leading scorer a year ago, Pannek will center the Gophers top line this season and with Camaranesi and senior co-captain Kate Schipper on either side of her, Minnesota hopes that the nation will see a break out season from her.

On the blue line, the discussion starts with Stecklein. The 2014 Olympian is the best all-around defenseman in the college game. Stecklein can be a shut down defender if needed, but she can also put the puck in the back of the net. Her leadership is one of a kind, and rubs off on her fellow players. Joining her on the blue line is a veteran core. Junior Sydney Baldwin is a puck moving defenseman who will see a lot of time on the Gophers power-play. Megan Wolfe is a senior who has bounced form both forward to defense as needed, but will anchor a defensive spot this season. Kelsey Cline and Sophie Skarzynski round out a defense corp with five returners from a year ago.

However, the most important cog to the Gophers season will by Sidney Peters. Peters steps in to follow in the footsteps of Amanda Leveille as the Gophers #1 goalie and the last line of defense of the Gophers title hopes. Peters has impressed in limited work the last few seasons. She enters the 16-17 season with a career 11-0-1 record and a goals against average of 1.11. Granted, Peters has mostly played against the lower-level teams in the WCHA and non-conference opponents, but she has shown she has the talent to lead this team in net. Just like Leveille did into stepping into the skates of Nora Raty, there is no reason to think Peters can’t step into Leveille’s skates and lead this team to another NCAA title.

The Gophers also have several newcomers to the roster this season who should play a role in their title hopes. Most notably are forwards Alex Woken, Kippen Keller and Co-WCHA preseason Rookie of the Year Lindsey Agnew. All three forwards should see plenty of ice time this season, and hopefully one can break out like Potomak did a year ago. Additionally the Gophers will get the services of Nicole Schammel who sat out last season after transferring from Minnesota State-Mankato where she was the Mavericks leading scorer in 2014-15.

On defense, Minnesota hopes to see impacts from Patti Marshall and Katie Robinson, and Serena D’Angelo will start the season as the backup goaltender behind Peters, and will be ready to step in if needed.

Minnesota also sees a change behind the bench. While Brad Frost and Joel Johnson return, former Gopher assistant coach Nadine Muzerall has left the program. However, the Gophers will see her four times this season as she was named the new head coach at Ohio State. Former Gopher captain Bethany Brausen was named as Muzerall’s replacement.

As stated, the Gophers toughest competition like the last few seasons will be that evil team in red to the east. The Badgers return All-American goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens who is set to break several of Raty’s NCAA goaltender records this season. They also return a majority of their scoring punch from a year ago, and add several key freshmen who are expected to make immediate impacts. The Badgers finally broke Minnesota’s long unbeaten streak against them last season, but have not been able to figure it out in March when it really counts? Will it be this season? Only time will tell, but you can guarantee that the Gophers loom large in the heads of the Badger players.

Minnesota will honor the 2015-16 National Championship team tonight in their season opener against Lindenwood. The Gophers will raise the championship banner prior to tonight’s game at 7. They will then return at 2:00 tomorrow for game two of the series. It will be the first ever matchup between Minnesota and Lindenwood, who coincidentally is the host of this season’s NCAA Frozen Four. The Gophers hope that it is a symbolic start to the season and to hopefully where they will end their season in March raising hardware yet again.