Right after fielding questions about his own team on media day, Minnesota women’s hockey coach Brad Frost started rattling off the names of all the great players college hockey lost to graduation this past spring.
After easily rattling off half a dozen names, Frost paused.
“When you really look at it I think the senior class from last year was the best to go through college hockey yet,” Frost said.
He’s probably right.
As the college hockey season kicks off this weekend, this year’s lineups will have big skates to fill. Gone are Kendall Coyne of Northeastern, Alexandra Carpenter and Haley Skarupa of Boston College, Minnesota’s all-time leader in points (285) and assists (170) Hannah Brandt and teammates Brook Garzone, Amanda Kessel; Amanda Leveille, and Milica McMillen who went 148-9-6 for a .926 winning percentage in four years, won three national titles and played in the national title game all four years of college.
There’s more, of course, but you get the gist.
The good news that kept Frost smiling last week was none of this means the cupboard is close to empty when it comes to Minnesota hockey.
Frost has already restocked with one of the top freshmen classes in the nation and has 19 players returning from the back-to-back national championship teams.
We last saw the Gophers win their seventh national title and fourth in five years when they battled archrival Wisconsin in the Frozen Four semifinals and ended Boston College’s dream unbeaten season with a 3-1 victory in the NCAA title game. It was the school’s fifth straight title game appearance. Frost’s juggernaut has him seven wins away from the magical 300 mark just 10 seasons into his coaching career.
“All that tells me is I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of great players,” Frost said. “I really don’t pay attention to things like that until someone tells me.”
Golden Gophers, indeed.
The six incoming Minnesota freshmen all have international experience and three seniors — defenseman Lee Stecklein (2014 U.S. Olympian) and forwards Dani Camoranesi and Kate Schipper — are proven leaders who’ve never not played in the NCAA title game. Sophomore Sarah Potomak may be one of the top players in the game. Frost says sophomore Kelly Pannek has a chance to be the school’s next Brandt, a shifty player who doesn’t dazzle but is always around the puck with a high hockey IQ.
The one question mark is goaltending where Leveille will be replaced by redshirt junior Sydney Peters and freshman Serena D’Angelo. Peters will get first shot, Frost said, but D’Angelo is right there.
“I don’t doubt that we’re going to be a strong team,” Stecklein said, “it’s just going to have to be different than it was last year.”
As good as it all sounds for Minnesota, the Badgers aren’t even favored to win the WCHA. Wisconsin, which won the league title last season and has four national titles in the past decade, is the preseason No. 1 in the league and in the country. The Badgers went 35-4-1 last season and return USCHO Player of the Year in goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens and leading points scorer Annie Pankowski and leading goal scorer Emily Clark along with almost all of last season’s squad that started 18-0.
Boston College, which didn’t lose last season until it met Minnesota in the title game and finished 41-1-0, is ranked third in the preseason poll with Quinnipiac, 31-3-5, ranked fourth.
Since the first NCAA women’s tournament in 2001 there has been only one national champion outside of the WCHA and that was Clarkson in 2014. Clarkson is ranked fifth to start the season after reaching the Frozen Four last season and finishing 31-3-5. Seven teams in the top 10 of the preseason are from Hockey East and the ECHA, but the top two remain Wisconsin and Minnesota with North Dakota ranked No. 6.
“I think this league keeps getting better and better every year,” Frost said. “The coaching in our league is second to none. … I think (Wisconsin) is a team that will continue to be right there at the top. North Dakota, Bemidji (State), those guys have all had a ton of success here, as well.”