Last week was a whirlwind experience for the University of Minnesota women's hockey team. The Golden Gophers (36-1-1, 26-1-1 WCHA) added to the WCHA regular season title with its third consecutive WCHA Final Face-Off tournament championship. Minnesota did so by defeating rival North Dakota (the only team to earn a win against the Maroon and Gold since 2012) and earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Prior to the weekend, head coach Brad Frost let his players know that sophomore forward Hannah Brandt was one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, presented annually to the top player in women's college hockey.
And this past Monday the Gophers met the President.
"It was awesome," said Rachael Bona. "We didn't really know what to expect. He came in and shook everyone's hand, asked everybody's name and took a picture with us. So that was pretty cool." (Bona also took a picture of herself "with" the President.)
The timing of the trip to Washington DC, which honored the 2012-13 Minnesota team that won the national championship, wasn't ideal. It came right before the Golden Gophers' NCAA quarterfinal game against Boston University today at 4 p.m. CT. Getting to Washington DC after the Final Face-Off required a late night bus ride from Bemidji to Minneapolis and flight on little sleep.
Frost didn't want to tell Minnesota for that reason until the last minute, but things like academics and logistics made that impossible. Instead, the trip hung over last weekend.
"I was worried about that being a distraction, but we have a mature club and they get it," Frost said.
Minnesota did. Joined by Gopher Olympians Lee Stecklein and Megan Bozek, going to Washington DC - something many girls on the team had not done - meeting with Senator Amy Klobuchar, seeing the sights and chatting up the President were all a nice distraction.
"He came in and just said ‘oh the Golden Gophers' and took away a bit of our nerves. He was just so calm and congratulated us and talked about the weather a little bit," said Brandt about meeting the President. "He was a very good person to talk to and then he came around and shook all our hands, which we weren't expecting because our coach made it seem like we were just going to take a picture and that was it.
"But he talked to us, asked us all our names and it was a really cool experience."
At the same time, it also puts a period on last year right before the biggest game of the season. Saturday's game at Ridder Arena is a rematch of the 2013 NCAA Championship (which Minnesota won 6-3), however, it's also the next step for this year's team. Whoever wins today advances to the Frozen Four next weekend in Hamden, Connecticut.
The rest of this week has been full of preparation for the Terriers, who won the Hockey East championship with a third period comeback against Boston College.
"Last year's last year and it has nothing to do with our team this year," said Bona, whose 58 points (21G-37A) this season more than doubled the junior's career total. "We're a new team and it's tough. Our freshmen weren't able to come and so they missed out on that. This is our team now so we're looking forward to the next two weekends coming up."
That's in mind for Bona and Brandt, who leads Division 1 with 62 points (22G-40A) this season. Minnesota will have its hands full in the opening round - at this time of the year only eight teams remain. You have to be good to be around. Boston University goalie Kerrin Sperry had a .952 save percentage in the Hockey East Tournament while two Terriers have scored more total goals than any Gopher.
Still, in front of a home crowd the Minnesota players are looking to "just play how (they) know how to play" in the quest for a three-peat. On the ice there are no distractions and it's the only way the Gophers know how to play. So far it's led to a couple of individual honors and a team one.
Of course, that whirlwind is just last week's team bonding.
"It was definitely a whirlwind Thursday, going into the tournament, winning it, getting back late at night, leaving early in the morning. I think most of us got an hour or two hours of sleep before DC," Brandt said. "I've never been there - most people hadn't. It was an experience and obviously meeting the President was the cherry on top."
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate