Rinkytown blog: Grace Zumwinkle returns to loaded Gophers women's team roster
After a season of international hockey and an Olympic silver medal, Grace Zumwinkle will be back in her familiar maroon and gold uniform next winter. And a former Gopher takes a pioneering position in Pittsburgh, and more nonconference schedule news for the Gophers men.
MINNEAPOLIS — With a fresh piece of silver mined on a trip to China in her possession, Grace Zumwinkle will be donning a gold hockey jersey for one more season. On Wednesday it was announced that Zumwinkle will return to the Minnesota Gophers for her COVID eligibility season, after spending last season with Team USA and taking a trip to the Winter Olympics.
Zumwinkle, who will turn 23 on Saturday, was the leading scorer on the 2020-21 Gophers with 17 goals and seven assists in 20 games, on a team that just missed an invite to the NCAA tournament.
“Looking back, it’s three-fold,” Zumwinkle told The Rink Live on Wednesday of the factors that went into her decision to return. “Coming up short in the national tournament the last two years and getting a COVID year was one factor. I also have a little sister on the team, so it will be cool to play with her. And lastly, it’s just so special getting to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota and at Ridder Arena.”
Zumwinkle’s younger sister, Emily, played in all 39 Gophers games as a freshman defender last season, notching four goals and five assists. Next season will be the first that the Zumwinkle sisters have spent as teammates since one season of prep hockey at Breck.
Grace returns to a Gophers team that won the WCHA regular season title last season, but fell in the conference playoff title game and went one-and-done in the NCAA playoffs. Still, the Gophers had the national Rookie of the Year in Peyton Hemp and the national Player of the Year in Patty Kazmaier Award winner Taylor Heise, so Zumwinkle will be joining an already loaded roster.
“Anytime you can bring a world-class player like Grace back, it’s a huge boost for your team,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said, while taking a break from the national coaches convention in Florida on Wednesday afternoon. “Her experiences have just continued to grow, being in the Olympics, so we expect her to bring a lot of that wisdom and knowledge back to our team.”
Zumwinkle said her year with Team USA was a lesson primarily in preparation and full-time focus on hockey.
“Whether it’s in practice or the weight room, the little things all add up to the performance that people see on the ice,” she said. “A lot of hard work and time gets put in behind the scenes and ultimately what you put in is what you get out. There’s a direct relationship.”
Frost said he expects that Heise will return as well and that they will announce more super seniors in the coming days. He will not delay any of the incoming freshmen, having learned the hard way last season, when a series of injuries and at least one departure had the Gophers adding a player to their roster at midseason.
Amanda Kessel joins Penguins pioneering program
Her brother won a pair of Stanley Cups while wearing the black and gold of the Penguins, so it’s no surprise that Amanda Kessel looked right at home inside Pittsburgh’s rink this week. Kessel, who — like her brother Phil — is a former Gophers standout and Olympian, was announced as the inaugural participant in the Penguins Executive Management Program.
“I obviously know Pittsburgh a little bit and know what a great city and sports atmosphere this is, so I’m really excited to get going and join the team and bring as much as I can to the program,” Kessel said on Wednesday at a press conference held at PPG Paints Arena.
The new program offers candidates — with a focus on women and minority athletes — a one-year opportunity to work alongside executives within the Penguins partnership, marketing, communication and broadcast departments, as well as hockey operations. Kessel will rotate through different departments within the Pens’ organization, learning all aspects of the sports business.
As a Gopher, Kessel, 30, was a member of NCAA title teams in 2012, 2013 and 2016. She has represented Team USA in the Olympics three times, winning gold in 2018 and bringing home silver medals in 2014 and 2022.
“Amanda has the experience, drive, and education to be a fantastic front-office executive in professional sports, and we are honored to welcome her to Pittsburgh,” said David Morehouse, the Penguins CEO.
Phil Kessel, who skated one season with the Gophers in 2005-06, was a member of Pittsburgh’s NHL title teams in 2016 and 2017. He is currently skating with the Arizona Coyotes.
Thanksgiving in the desert, and no Bulldogs on men’s nonconference slate
A little more clarity came to the Gophers men’s team’s nonconference schedule this week with the schedule announcements at Arizona State and Minnesota Duluth. The Gophers will make their first trek to Tempe to face the Sun Devils on Thanksgiving weekend, playing a two-game set at ASU’s new arena on Nov. 25-26.
The nonconference games are part of an arrangement made during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, where Arizona State played each Big Ten team four times, all of them on the road, in exchange for each Big Ten team visiting ASU for a nonconference series in the future. The Sun Devils qualified for the 2019 NCAA tournament and would have been in the 2020 tournament had it not been canceled due to the pandemic. They went 7-16-3 in the COVID season, including an 0-4 mark versus the Gophers and were 17-17-1 last season as an independent.
After playing at a small off-campus rink with fewer than 1,000 seats for their first seven seasons, ASU moves into a new 5,000-seat, on-campus arena in the fall.
The other schedule news came with the revealing of UMD’s full slate , which does not include a series with the Gophers in 2022-23. The in-state rivalry, which began in 1952, has featured at least one game between the Gophers and Bulldogs each season since 1961-62, with the exception of the 2020-21 COVID year, which featured only conference games. UMD was the only team to sweep the Gophers last season, winning 5-3 in Minneapolis on Oct. 22 and 2-1 in Duluth the next night.