2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Minnesota Gophers

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Brad Frost (9th Season)
2015-16 Captains: Hannah Brandt (C), Lee Stecklein (A)

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 34-3-4 (22-2-4-2 WCHA/1st place)
WCHA Postseason: Conference semifinals; advanced to WCHA Final Face-Off with sweep over Minnesota State in the quarterfinals, lost to Bemidji State in the semifinals
NCAA Tournament: Advanced to Frozen Four with win vs. RIT in the quarterfinals, defeated Wisconsin in national semifinals, defeated Harvard to win 2015 national championship

The Gophers hung yet another banner after the 2014-15 season, and did so in pretty dominant fashion, posting their fourth-straight 30-win season. They started off the season playing host to Penn State and Boston University on opening weekend, and beat both of those teams handily. They then headed to Duluth for a series against the Bulldogs and though they came away with the win in game one, Minnesota Duluth earned the win in the shootout in game two. That set up a big road series with Wisconsin, and Minnesota kept up its winning ways against the Badgers, sweeping that weekend. The team returned home and earned another conference sweep against North Dakota the week after.

Over Halloween weekend, Minnesota welcomed Bemidji State to town, and that series did not go in the Gophers’ favor, as the Beavers took five out of six points from them. Minnesota responded well, however, going on a 12-game winning streak and a 19-game unbeaten streak. Their two ties over that stretch came against Wisconsin and Ohio State, but otherwise the Gophers most notably swept the Buckeyes, as well as Princeton and St. Lawrence in non-conference action, and earned another win over the Badgers.

Both of those streaks came to an end on Feb. 6, when Minnesota was shut out by North Dakota on the road, but they won out the rest of the regular season. They salvaged a split the next night against UND and then swept Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State to head into the postseason on a five-game winning streak. After sweeping Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Gophers were upset by the Beavers in their WCHA Final Face-Off semifinal game.

They began NCAA Tournament play with a quarterfinal game against RIT and won that decisively, 6-2. They then met the Badgers for the fifth time this season in the Frozen Four semifinals, which they hosted, and skated away with a 3-1 victory to advance to the national championship game vs. Harvard. With a 4-1 win over the Crimson, Minnesota made its return to the top and captured its third national championship in four years.

Hannah Brandt earned Top-3 Patty Kazmaier Award Finalist recognition and along with Rachel Ramsey, received First Team All-America distinction. Dani Cameranesi and Lee Stecklein were named Second Team All-Americans. Brandt was also honored as the WCHA’s Player of the Year and Scoring Champion, and Ramsey, Stecklein, and Cameranesi joined her on the All-WCHA First Team. Ramsey was named the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year, and Milica McMillen earned a spot on the conference’s Second Team while Rachael Bona took home All-WCHA Third Team honors. Kelly Pannek and Sydney Baldwin were both named to the league’s All-Rookie Team.

Meet the Newcomers

G Emma May, Cretin-Derham Hall H.S.

May was a five-time All-Suburban East Conference honoree at Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.), and as a senior earned third-team All-American accolades from USA Today. Helping her team to a 21-4-5 record last season, she was a finalist for the Minnesota Ms. Goalie award and took home Star Tribune All-Metro third team honors as well. Over the course of her high school career, she recorded a .915 save percentage and a 1.78 goals-against average.

D Anna Barlow, South St. Paul H.S.

Barlow scored 22 points in 24 games with South St. Paul (Minn.) last season, leading the team to a semifinalist finish at the Minnesota Class A state tournament. She earned all-state honors three times and also collected four All-Metro East Conference honors over her career, totaling 43 goals, 111 assists, and 154 points.

D Sophie Skarzynski, U.S. Under-18 Team, Chicago Mission

Skarzynski skated in two IIHF Under-18 World Championships with Team USA, winning silver in 2014 and gold in 2015. She helped the Mission capture Illinois Tier I state and regional championships in 2014, as well as bronze at the 2014 Tier I national championships and silver at the 2013 national championships.

Coach Frost on Skarzynski (via GopherSports.com):

“Sophie comes from a great Chicago Mission program, where both Megan Bozek and Cara Piazza played. She is a hard-working player with great offensive skills. Sophie is very versatile, being able to play both forward and defense. She loves the game of hockey and will compete for the United States at the U-18 world championships in January.”

F Sarah Potomak, Canadian Under-18 Team, Pursuit of Excellence

Potomak helped the Canadians to gold at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 World Championships as well as silver in 2015. She led both tournaments in scoring, notching five goals and nine points in 2014 and then earning Most Valuable Player honors in 2015 after a repeat nine-point performance. During her junior season at Pursuit, she tallied 29 goals, 31 assists, and 60 points in 42 games.

Coach Frost on Potomak (via GopherSports.com):

“Sarah is an incredibly skilled player. She has elite skating ability, high end finish and is extremely passionate about the game of hockey. Sarah will make an immediate impact within our program. She will help lead Canada’s U-18 team this January at the world championships as well.”

F Taylor Williamson, U.S. Under-18 Team, Edina H.S.

Playing for Edina (Minn.), Williamson was the winner of the 2015 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award and the 2015 Star Tribune Player of the Year. In 2014, she helped the United States capture silver at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships. She captained the Hornets as a senior, leading the team to a 22-8-1 record and a third-place finish at the Minnesota Class AA state tournament. She scored 40 goals, 20 assists, and 60 points in 27 games in 2014-15 and was a three-time all-state honoree, four-time All-Lake Conference honoree. She collected USA Today All-USA Girls Hockey second team honors in 2014, and first team honors in 2015.

Coach Frost on Williamson (via GopherSports.com):

“Taylor comes from a great hockey family and a great hockey community. Her father and her grandfather played for the U, and she is excited to carry on that tradition. Taylor has soft hands and tremendous vision, and she works extremely hard on both ends of the ice. She has played a big role for Team USA at previous world championships.”

F Tianna Gunderson, Roseau H.S.

Another Minnesota high school product, Gunderson was a part of Section 8AA championship teams in 2012 and 2014, and helped the Rams capture the 2012 Minnesota Class AA state tournament consolation title. As a senior, she notched 32 goals, 18 assists, and 50 points in 28 games. She was honored twice as an all-state selection and as an All-Section 8 Conference selection.

F Sierra Smith, Stillwater H.S.

Smith earned All-South Suburban Conference recognition as a senior after scoring 11 goals, 13 assists, and 24 points in 27 games. She was a two-time all-conference honorable mention honoree prior to that.

F Caitlin Reilly, Penn State University, Benilde-St. Margaret’s H.S.

Reilly spent her first collegiate season with the Nittany Lions out in College Hockey America, and in 37 games, she scored six goals, 10 assists, and 16 points. At Benilde-St. Margaret’s (Minn.) in high school, she was a four-time All-Metro West Conference selection and garnered all-state accolades twice. She helped the Knights to a Class AA state runner-up finish in 2013-14, and scored 209 career points, including 44 goals, 40 assists, and 84 points as a senior.

F Nicole Schammel, Minnesota State University-Mankato, Red Wing H.S.

As a freshman, Schammel led an offensively-challenged Mavericks team with 22 points from 11 goals and 11 assists. She helped Red Wing (Minn.) earn three third-place finishes at the Class A state tournament during her tenure there, and was a finalist for the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award as a senior. She finished as the second all-time leading scorer in Minnesota High School League history with 273 goals, 184 assists, and 457 points. Unlike Reilly, who transferred from an out-of-conference team, Schammel will have to sit out the 2015-16 season due to conference transfer rules.

For more information on the Gophers’ additions, check out the GopherSports.com release here.

2015-16 Season Preview

Key Departures: D Rachel Ramsey, F Rachael Bona, F Meghan Lorence
Key Returners: F Hannah Brandt, F Dani Cameranesi, F Kelly Pannek, F Kate Schipper, F Cara Piazza, D Lee Stecklein, D Milica McMillen, D Sydney Baldwin, D Megan Wolfe, G Amanda Leveille
Key Additions: F Sarah Potomak, F Taylor Williamson, F Caitlin Reilly, D Sophie Skarzynski

There were plenty of reasons why the Gophers skated away with yet another national title last season. They were a dominant team in all areas throughout the whole year, with the second-best scoring offense in the country at 4.49 goals per game, the second-best scoring defense at 1.17 goals against per game, and .946 save percentage-caliber goaltending. They’ll be dealing with several key losses at the skater positions, but with the addition of eight players to this year’s squad, they’ll be hoping that that depth, however young, will cover those losses and help propel them to another championship.

Senior Hannah Brandt and junior Dani Cameranesi, both First Team All-Americans in 2014-15, will once again lead the way up front. They are perhaps the most dynamic offensive duo in the country, having scored 139 points between them last season, and they’ve got plenty of scoring depth around them as well. Kelly Pannek had a big rookie year with 44 points, and junior Kate Schipper and sophomore Cara Piazza are both poised to fill in the holes left in the line-up by the graduations of Rachael Bona and Meghan Lorence. Rookie Sarah Potomak has had no problem playing on Minnesota’s top line so far, and though Maryanne Menefee has been out so far this season, she’ll give the team another top-six option when she returns. The added skill of sophomore Caitlin Reilly and freshman Taylor Williamson gives the Gophers an amount of offensive depth that any team would love to have.

The loss of Rachel Ramsey on the back end likely hurts the team more than the two departures up front, and so far this season the defense hasn’t really been tested. But the Gophers have the pieces in place to make up a very good top-four anyway, led by 2014 U.S. Olympian Lee Stecklein and fellow All-American player Milica McMillen. Sydney Baldwin enjoyed a strong rookie season in 2014-15, totaling 11 points, and looks ready to make bigger contributions in the top-four. Freshman Sophie Skarzynski brings plenty of skill up front, while junior Kelsey Cline leans more on experience and reliability. Rookie Anna Barlow looks to have found a spot on the third pairing with Skarzynski, and while depth could end up being a factor against a strong offensive club like Wisconsin, Minnesota’s defensive group isn’t really lacking any skill, and should be able to play the same up-tempo style they’re used to.

If there is any decline in the Gophers’ defensive capabilities, we could see it affect the performance of Amanda Leveille in net, but last season she stood tall even in the aftermath of the loss of the national title in 2014. Her .946 save percentage ranked second in the nation, and she also owned a 1.18 goals-against average to go along with six shutouts. As a senior, she’ll be expected to provide a consistently high level of play again, and keep things steady even if there are defensive hiccups in front of her. She’s proven she can do that to a certain degree, but she’s still never really been in a position where she has to completely bail out the defense on a regular basis. We’ll see how she responds if she’s tested like that this year.

Minnesota will have to deal with the departures of three key seniors, including one huge one on the blue line, but they’ve brought in enough pieces and will see others make enough of a jump to at the very least hold steady. They’re still housing an absurd amount of offensive depth and with McMillen, Stecklein, Baldwin, and Skarzynski, they’ll be icing a really skilled defensive corps as well. There aren’t really any question marks left for Leveille after the season she had last year, but she may have to up her game a bit against tougher opponents if the defense needs some time to gather itself. With the amount of talent they have, as well as title-winning experience all throughout their line-up, the Gophers will be very serious contenders nationally once again.

Schedule Highlights

Oct. 1-2 at Penn State (W 2-0, W 5-0)
Oct. 23-24 vs. Minnesota Duluth
Oct. 29-30 at North Dakota
Nov. 13-14 vs. Bemidji State
Nov. 20-21 vs. Yale
Dec. 4-5 at Wisconsin
Dec. 11 vs. St. Cloud State (U.S Hockey Hall of Fame Game-Roseville, Minn.)
Jan. 29-30 at Bemidji State
Feb. 5-6 vs. North Dakota
Feb. 12-13 at Minnesota Duluth
Feb. 19-20 vs. Wisconsin

One thought on “2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Minnesota Gophers

  1. Pingback: Weekly News: NWHL on NHL Network, NWHL Fighting Code - Watch This

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