Amanda Kessel (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Amanda Kessel missed the 2014-15 NCAA campaign due to a concussion suffered before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and hasn’t played in 2015-16. Before the season began, it was reported she would never play in the NCAA again, but the University of Minnesota announced Wednesday Kessel will return for the remainder of the campaign.
Amanda Kessel’s battle with post-concussion symptoms nearly robbed her of her final year of NCAA eligbility, but University of Minnesota Gophers coach Brad Frost announced Wednesday that the 24-year-old sniper will be making her triumphant return after all.
Kessel, regarded as one of the best women’s players in the world, has missed the past two seasons of NCAA action for vastly different reasons. She redshirted the 2013-14 campaign to train with Team USA’s women’s team ahead of the Sochi Olympics, but a concussion put her tournament in jeopardy. She returned for the Olympics and led Team USA in scoring, but the post-concussion symptoms forced her to redshirt again in 2014-15 and, as of last July, were thought to have claimed her final college season.
“After her missing last year and the severity of the concussions last year, we had a feeling that she was not going to be able to play for us unless things turned around,” Frost told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in July. “We’ve had some discussions with Amanda and myself, but really, it’s never even gotten to the point where hockey is something she would do with us again.”
Well, it appears it’s gotten to that point. Not only is Kessel coming back, but she may be ready to get back in the lineup as soon as Friday against the University of North Dakota.
"I'm so happy to be playing hockey again," Kessel told the Gophers’ website. "I'm not suffering from any concussion symptoms, and I've been evaluated by a number of physicians who have cleared me to play. I feel great, and I'm looking forward to being back on the ice with my teammates on game day.”
While Kessel hasn’t played for the Gophers since the 2013 season ended, her return to the lineup will have people paying attention. During her last NCAA campaign, she was near unstoppable that season.
In 46 games with the Gophers in 2012-13, Kessel scored 46 goals and 101 points and helped lead the team to a perfect 41-0-0 record and an NCAA championship. She was named the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the best women’s college player. It made sense when she chose to sit out a season to prepare for the Olympics, however, but no one could have expected it would nearly cost Kessel her college career.
Leading up to the Olympics, she suffered a concussion. She was cleared in time to play at the tournament and her performance didn’t suffer as she led Team USA in scoring with three goals and six points, but the concussion took its toll and Kessel hasn’t been back to competitive hockey since.
If it weren’t for her injury, it’s likely Kessel, the sister of NHLer Phil, would likely have completed her stay in the NCAA in 2014-15 and have moved on to the professional women’s game. It’s not beyond reason to believe that were she healthy Kessel, like Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight, would already be one of the faces of the women’s game. All that aside, though, Kessel simply seems happy to be able to return to the game.
"Sometimes difficult things happen in life, and they only make you stronger,” Kessel said. “It was extremely challenging, but I did everything I could to get healthy. I'm grateful for everyone who helped and supported me throughout the difficult times. I wouldn't be in this position without them. I cannot wait to be back out there doing what I love to do while representing the University of Minnesota.”