This is the eighth 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 Amanda Kessel, who played at the University of Minnesota from 2010-11 to 2012-13 and in 2015-16.
By Bill Brophy
The Amanda Kessel clothing line launched this week.
As Kessel's opponents in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and international hockey can attest, if Kessel is as successful with the AK28 collection as she is on the ice, the competitors in the hockey apparel world better watch out. And never count her out.
Kessel showed up on the campus at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2010 known as the sister of Phil Kessel, the former Gopher who had gained respect as a goal scorer in the National Hockey League.
It didn't take Amanda long to make her own reputation.
She is looked upon as one of the best to play in the first 20 years of the WCHA, a former Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner who won three national championships while at Minnesota, and a two-time world champion who helped the United States win a silver medal in the 2014 Olympics and a gold medal last February in Korea.
Like her brother Phil, Kessel surprised some folks when she crossed the border from Madison, Wis. to play at Minnesota. She made her presence felt quickly, scoring 19 goals, 31 assists and 50 points as a freshman. She was the 2011 WCHA Rookie of the Year.
As a sophomore, Kessel proved to be one of the most skilled forwards in the country, collecting 32 goals, 48 assists and a team-high 80 points. She led the Gophers with a plus-55 total and her point total is second only to U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Natalie Darwitz for the most points ever recorded by a Minnesota sophomore. Amanda was a top-10 Patty Kaz Award finalist, a second team all-American and one of the vital cogs in Minnesota's drive to its third NCAA title.
Kessel followed that season up with a big junior year when she won the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award as the best women's college player in the country in a ceremony held on the Minnesota campus. She was also named the WCHA Player of the Year and an all-American for a season in which she became only the fourth NCAA player to ever score over 100 points. She finished with 46 goals, 55 assists and 101 points as the Gophers again won the national championship.
Kessel's big season earned her a spot on the United States Olympic team, but a few weeks before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Kessel was tripped during a scrimmage, falling head-first into the board. Her concussion-like symptoms didn't show up until after Sochi, but they were severe enough that she missed the entire 2014-15 post-Olympics season with Minnesota.
"I was feeling crappy every day," Kessel told ESPN in February. "I would wake up every morning just hoping I didn't have headaches. I would say, 'Please, just let me wake up and feel OK.' But I was losing hope."
Kessel felt she was doing all the prescribed things to get better – getting a lot of sleep and eating properly, but exercise was a chore. "Just the stimulus of the environment got to me," she told ESPN. "Oh, and the sensitivity to natural light was the worst."
It looked like her hockey career was finished until a 2015 visit to Dr. Michael Collins, a concussion specialist based in Pittsburgh. He encouraged her to become active again, even if it wasn't easy to do.
After two years of being sidelined, Kessel felt good enough to consider a comeback after following the doctor's advice. She returned to campus to complete her degree in sports management and, by January 2016, she was ready to return to practice.
By February of that year, Kessel had returned to the Gophers – and were they were ever happy to have the crafty forward back. She had two assists, including one on the game-winning goal, in her comeback debut against North Dakota, had a goal and an assist in a 2-0 victory over North Dakota in the Final Faceoff semifinal and scored three goals, including a short-hander and the game-winner, in a NCAA quarterfinal victory over Princeton. Kessel wasn't done with her big return. In the Frozen Four, she scored the game-tying goal in a 3-2 semifinal victory over Wisconsin and had the game-winner in the Gophers' 3-1 victory over Boston College in the national championship contest in Durham, N.H. In her 13-game comeback, Kessel had 17 points (11 goals and six assists).
After graduating from Minnesota, Kessel played for the Metropolitan Riveters in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) and showed everyone at USA Hockey that she should still be considered a candidate for the U.S. Olympic team in 2018.
Amanda was among the golden girls in Pyeongchang and even one-upped brother Phil, who won a silver medal in 2010.
Since then, Kessel has been very active, making many TV appearances with her teammates after the Winter Games and solo appearances recently on the NHL Network, promoting the U.S. women's national teams. She has returned to the Riveters' lineup in the NWHL and was named to next month's All-Star Game as the league's assist leader.
Now, after announcing her new clothing line, Kessel is ready for her next challenge. If her past determination and world-class success is any indication, we may just have been introduced to the next great line in athletic apparel.
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).