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Gopher Women's Hockey Quick Hits: Media Day and Minnesota Whitecaps exhibition

News and notes from Tuesday's preseason Media Day.

The 2013 national champion banner at Ridder soon gets a friend to its right.
The 2013 national champion banner at Ridder soon gets a friend to its right.
Nathan Wells/SBN College Hockey

The defending national champions held its media day on Tuesday, nine days before Minnesota heads to State College, PA and kick off the 2015-16 season against non-conference Penn State.

Before that, however, the Gophers will host the Minnesota Whitecaps in an exhibition game on Friday at Ridder Arena.

"It might be a step above a normal college game," said Minnesota senior forward Hannah Brandt, named the WCHA Preseason Player of the Year for a third consecutive season, about the team's exhibition.

Admission to Friday's game is free.

It's a bargain to begin with and even more because of who will be on the ice facing the Gophers.

The Whitecaps are a women's post-collegiate team whose roster features many of the top players in the world despite not being in either one of the two North American leagues. (The Gophers, meanwhile, feature a 2014 Olympian in defenseman Lee Stecklein. She, along with Brandt and Dani Cameranesi, also won a gold medal at the World Championships in April.) It includes several Minnesota alums, including former captain Bethany Brausen, Rachael Bona, Megan Lorence, Sarah Erickson, Minnesota natives and Olympians such as the Lamoureux twins Monique and Jocelyne (who did spend a season at Minnesota before transferring to North Dakota), Anne Schlepper and Finnish Olympian and former Gopher Mira Jalosuo.

Fellow Finnish Olympian and Gopher goaltender Noora Raty will also participate in the homecoming (coincidentally on Homecoming Weekend) before going to play with men overseas.

"We should have a lot of our alumni on that team," said head coach Brad Frost. "We're real excited about that and then it's a real short week as we head out to Penn State next week."

Minnesota also plays the Whitecaps, whose schedule consists of college teams and exhibition games against a couple NWHL teams, on January 6th, 2016.

Some other Media Day notes are below. I'll have more up on the team before the season begins, but for now I wanted to post some quick hits.

-For the most part Media Day was a low-key atmosphere. The preseason is usually a time where every single team feels good about themselves and tries to set expectations. That was the case somewhat. Everyone wants to win a increasingly tough WCHA and add another title, but this year was a little more insular in terms of which factors would stop that rather than any opponents.

It's apparently a little easier to downplay team or individual awards after winning a national championship and being named the top team after only losing four seniors.

-Minnesota brings in nine newcomers, including two sophomore transfers in Minnesota State's Nicole Schammel (who will sit out due to WCHA rules) and Penn State's Caitlin Reilly (who can play). Having more depth is beneficial given that injuries to Amanda Kessel and Kate Flug last season - along with regular wear and tear - meant practices would be down to 14 or 15 skaters, said Frost.

According to Brandt, this year's group of first-year players is the largest in her four years at Minnesota.

-Three freshmen who will be counted on right away are forwards Sophie Skarzynski and Sarah Potomak, along with defenseman Taylor Williamson.

"I would expect those three to play right away for us and contribute immediately," Frost said.

Of the three, the biggest name is Potomak (pronounced POT-uh-mack). The 2015 WCHA Preseason player of the year captained Team Canada in the U-18 World Juniors. It didn't sound like Frost plans initially to break up the team's top line of Brandt, Dani Cameranesi and Maryanne Meneffee, but that doesn't mean Potomak won't get chances.

"She's extremely shifty, she has a great release, excellent hands, sees the ice well. She's just a complete hockey player," was how Frost described her play.

Skarzynski (pronounced scar-ZIN-skee), a Lake Forest, Illinois native, played against Potomak in the U-18s, winning gold along with the rest of Team USA. Williamson won the 2015 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award as the best senior in Minnesota (she's the fourth straight winner to suit up for the Gophers in college), playing her high school career at Edina.

-Brandt and Lee Stecklein were both voted captains by their teammates. For Stecklein, it is an honor. "I feel entrusted with something and I'd guess Hannah feels the same way, to just make sure to represent our teammates and our coaches and our program."

-Brandt on what she has learned from past captains: "They always did a good job of motivating us, good communicators. They always made sure the freshmen were included and the team bonded, ready to go every day at practice and every game."

-Stecklein spent the offseason continuing to work on her offensive game from the blue line.

-I asked Stecklein if she was able to relax after a whirlwind summer. After winning an NCAA Championship, the redshirt junior went right away to Sweden for the World Championships. In addition she spent time in Australia and Lake Placid for the US U-22 camp in August. She said she had to find time, but did.

"I was grateful for those camps because not only do I get to play for my country but they also prepare me to be the best player I can here," said Stecklein.

-Hannah Brandt's reaction to being drafted second overall in June's NWHL Draft (where only incoming seniors were eligible) by the Connecticut Whale low plays the sensation of being drafted: "They draft you but it's really not too big of a deal because you can't do anything anyways because you're a college student. It's exciting, but I'm not too worried about it."


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 --