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Gophers Hockey: Several alums join NWHL's 2nd season while Brandt chooses Minnesota Whitecaps

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Four of the five graduated seniors from Minnesota's 2016 national championship team will continue to play competitive hockey after college.

Playing against the Minnesota Whitecaps last season, Hannah Brandt (22) will join them this year.
Playing against the Minnesota Whitecaps last season, Hannah Brandt (22) will join them this year.
Eric Miller/Gopher Athletics

Four of Minnesota's five seniors from this past season's national championship team will continue to play competitive hockey after college. With forward Amanda Kessel, goaltender Amanda Leveille and defender Milica McMillen all heading East to play in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), Hannah Brandt remains in the Midwest.

Brandt, the Gophers' all-time scoring leader with 285 points in her four seasons, will play for the Minnesota Whitecaps. Independent from either the NWHL or five team Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), the Whitecaps feature several Olympians and Gophers, along with a schedule made up of games against high school, college and post-collegiate teams. This season the Whitecaps will take on the Gophers and two other WCHA schools in exhibitions.

Brandt, who was the #2 overall pick in the 2015 NWHL Draft, is not the only elite recent NCAA graduate forward to say no to both leagues. 2016 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Kendall Coyne (like Brandt, a former NWHL first round pick) also decided to play with the Whitecaps after a four year career at Northeastern.

Two former Gophers over the weekend did the opposite, however. Defender Anne Schleper (2008-12) went from the Whitecaps to the NWHL, signing a one-year, $21,000 contract with the Buffalo Beauts. Jordyn Burns (2012-14) also signed with Buffalo for $13,000 near the end of the league's July 31st free agency period.

Both are reunited with former teammate Megan Bozek on the Beauts.

They join the three recent Minnesota graduates as rookies in the second-year NWHL. The league consists of four teams made up primarily of New England-based players, each playing between 18 and 22 games.

Kessel, the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award winner whose return from two years of post-concussion symptoms  materialized in a national championship for the Gophers this past March, continues her hockey comeback. She signed for a league-high (matched by Kelli Stack) $26,000 contract with the New York Riveters.

McMillen, a St. Paul native, joins her in New York after signing a $17,000 contract to move across the country.

Leveille, meanwhile, signed a $15,000 contract with Buffalo in April. The #1 goaltender for the Gophers the past three seasons hails from nearby Kingston, Ontario.

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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 --