This is the second in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the WCHA's 20th Anniversary Team. This week's honoree is Hannah Brandt, who played at Minnesota from 2012-13 to 2015-16
By Bill Brophy
Hannah Brandt has had success on a hockey rink wherever she has gone -- from her days growing up in Vadnais Heights, Minn. to a golden trip at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea to her current status as one of the leading scorers for the expansion Minnesota Whitecaps in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL).
It has got her to the point where she has to pinch herself when she realizes Hannah Brandt now is a role model to a lot of young girls in her native Minnesota.
"I grew up in a time when my hockey heroes were Krissy Wendell, Winny Brodt and Natalie Darwitz," said Brandt about three former University of Minnesota players who all preceded her time wearing the Maroon and Gold uniform. "They were the pioneers in the game, the players I looked up to. Now I know I am on the other side of it. I know a lot of different young girls look up to me and that is something I am humbled by."
Brandt will be 25 next month and she will celebrate with a gold medal won at the Winter Games in February and three national championships in four years at Minnesota. She has also competed in three International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championships, winning a gold medal twice and silver once.
Brandt looks back on her college days fondly, appreciating her coaches and teammates at Minnesota, plus the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) rivals that made her a better player.
"In the WCHA, you knew every single weekend brought out your best," said Brandt. "I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed the games and the rivalries. You knew you were playing the best teams every weekend. There are good coaches in the WCHA and skilled players that test you."
Hannah is one of just four, three-time All-Americans in Minnesota history and the only three-time First Team All-American in program history. She graduated as the program's all-time leader in assists (WCHA-record 170) and points (285). Her WCHA-best 285 points (matching Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson) ties her for the second-most in NCAA Division I history (again, with Lamoureux-Davidson).
Her accomplishments were eye-popping from the moment she skated onto Ridder Arena as Ms. Hockey from Hill-Murray High School. In her freshman season at Minnesota, the Gophers were the unbeaten national champions and Brandt scored 33 goals and had 82 points, the second-most in Division I during the 2012-13 season. Hannah was one of ten nominees for the Patty Kazmaier Trophy and named WCHA Rookie of the Year.
Brandt added even more hardware the next two seasons, when she was the back-to-back WCHA Player of the Year and named as one of three finalists for the Patty Kaz.
In her sophomore season, Brandt had 23 goals and 42 assists, the most in Division I, for the NCAA runners-up. Brandt again led Minnesota in goals in her junior year, and her 34th goal of the season was the game-winner against Harvard in the 2015 NCAA title game. She wrapped up her college career in 2015-16 with 25 goals and 64 points, and the Gophers beat Boston College in Durham, Conn. for yet another NCAA title.
Given a little perspective to digest her college career, Brandt says her last and first national championships were the most memorable.
"It was very cool my freshman year when we didn't lose a game," Hannah said. "But to go out as a senior, when we were kind of the underdogs out East, that was a great way to end things."
Brandt acknowledges that the unbeaten season may be talked about for years to come.
"Every game with the streak, the pressure seemed to build," she recalled. "We hosted the Frozen Four that year. There was more media each week late in the season and everyone knew it was a big deal. You need a lot of good players and a little luck to do something like that. Looking back on what we did, it was just incredible."
Some would say what transpired in Korea last February at the Olympics was incredible, too. Brandt was cut from the 2014 U.S. National Team prior to the Olympics so she wasn't on the ice when Canada took a heart-wrenching 3-2 victory over the USA in Sochi, Russia. But she trained hard to make Team USA after graduating from Minnesota. As an added bonus, Hannah's adopted sister, Marissa Brandt, represented Korea in the 2018 Winter Games, so the Olympic experience was epic for Brandt and her family – even before the USA beat Canada in a shootout in PyeongChang to win the gold medal and show the world how women's hockey can be played at the highest level.
"The whole Olympic experience was something I won't forget," said Brandt. "But my favorite off-ice memory was the opening ceremonies and marching into the stadium. Of course, winning the gold medal and hearing the national anthem is something I will always remember."
Afterwards, Brandt and her teammates came home to lots of adulation. She and the golden girls did TV gigs with Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. The gold medal game earned an ESPY for best game in 2018. Hannah and Marissa threw out the first pitch at the Minnesota Twins' game at Target Field on the team's adoptee night.
But now it's back to work at a hockey rink for Brandt, who has led the Whitecaps to the top of the standings in their first year in the NWHL. It's all part of her plan to play for Team USA again in the 2022 Winter Games and maybe, at some point, use her U of M degree to get into the healthcare field.
"I plan to keep training and would like to play in the Olympics again," said Brandt. "The Whitecaps are fun. We have a lot of players who played in the WCHA, a lot of girls who I grew up playing with and against. All is going good."
About the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team
As it celebrates 20 Years of Excellence during the 2018-19 season, the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will honor the 20 alumnae named to the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team. The team will be revealed, one-by-one, in alphabetical order, one per week (except for the week of Dec. 24) through the week of March 4, prior to the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.
From an initial list of 120 nominations, representing each of the league's all-time eight schools, the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team Committee selected 41 finalists. To be nominated a player (forward, defenseman or goaltender) must have completed her collegiate eligibility at a WCHA institution (nominees did not have to play a full four seasons in the WCHA; however, current student-athletes were not eligible).
The WCHA 20th Anniversary team was determined by 1/3 fan vote, 1/3 WCHA alumnae vote and 1/3 Committee vote (consisting of two WCHA Office staff, one former and two current head coaches and three alumnae).
Other WCHA 20th Anniversary Team members: