Minnesota is adding more depth in its quest to repeat.
The team announced Friday that four incoming freshmen - forwards Tianna Gunderson (Roseau) and Sierra Smith (Stillwater), defenseman Anna Barlow (South St. Paul) and goaltender Emma May (Cretin-Derham Hall) - and two transfers will join the Gophers for 2015-16. This is on top of three others - Sarah Potomak, Sophie Skarzynski and Taylor Williamson - signing LOIs during the early period in November.
Bringing in such a large class helps solve one problem that plagued the defending national champions. Minnesota spent much of last season with a small yet talented roster. Because of numbers the team regularly suited up 10 forwards and several players on the blue line doubled also found their way up front.
With only 4 seniors graduating, the Gophers go from 21 to 26 players.
An Olympic Return and Chance For Gold
A year ago Lee Stecklein was a part of the 2014 US Olympic women's hockey team. A lot has changed since then for the Minnesota redshirt sophomore defenseman and the players around her.
"We are thrilled that these six Minnesota players have decided to become Gophers," women's hockey head coach Brad Frost said in a statement. "After having a thin roster over this past year, it was critical to increase our depth and provide more competition. All nine of our incoming players will add greatly to that depth, but more importantly, they will add tremendous value to our culture."
In addition to the seven true freshmen, Minnesota also picked up transferring forwards Nicole Schammel (Red Wing, MN) and Caitlin Reilly (Channhassen, MN).
"Both Nicole and Caitlin have played at a high level over this past year, so that should benefit them going forward," Frost said.
Oddly Reilly's college career began at Ridder Arena and Schammel's freshman season ended at Ridder.
Schammel led Minnesota State in scoring as a freshman with 22 points (11G-11A) in 36 games. Her total includes a hat trick against St. Cloud State and a pair of WCHA Rookie of the Week honors. She leaves a Mavericks team that won three games all season and just hired Miracle on Ice player John Harrington to replace Eric Means.
Reilly heads home from Penn State, which went 17-16-4 and finished third in College Hockey America, to become the fifth member of her family to play for the Gophers. She joins her father Mike (1979-1981) and three brothers Connor, Ryan and Mike. (Caitlin's sister Shannon played D1 hockey at Ohio State from 2007-2011.) A speedy forward, Reilly finished fourth on the Nittany Lions in scoring and led all freshmen with 16 points (6G-10A) in 36 games.
"I chose Minnesota because I wanted to be closer to home and have my family be able to watch me play more as well as be a part of a program with so much history," Reilly said. "I also chose Minnesota for the academic opportunities this school offers."
Schammel will have to sit next season while Reilly's status for 2015-16 is still to be determined, according to a University spokesperson. Both have three years of eligibility remaining.
Minnesota begins the 2015-16 season and quest for a seventh national championship on the road at Penn State October 1-2.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate