Instincts, skill make freshman stand out
When Hannah Brandt was in eighth grade, her hockey coach at Hill-Murray High School told her that his wish was for her to become a world-class player.
“She looked at me like I had two heads,” Bill Schafhauser said. “She was too young to realize that she had a lot of good things to look forward to.”
Brandt, a freshman forward for the Gophers women’s hockey team, is well on her way to fulfilling her former coach’s wish.
Through 18 games, the star freshman has 18 goals and 27 assists.
“It’s just kind of crazy to have that many points in so few games,” Gophers head coach Brad Frost said.
She ranks second in the nation in points behind her linemate, junior forward Amanda Kessel.
Before the season started, Frost likened Brandt to a combination of Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell-Pohl — the program’s top-two leaders in points all-time.
Now, Brandt is on pace to shatter all kinds of offensive scoring records at Minnesota.
She just turned 19, but she’s already playing at a level typical of upperclassmen.
“Just wait till she’s a junior leading the team, a senior leading the team,” Darwitz said. “Then you’re going to get the real deal and the full package of Hannah Brandt.”
Brandt has three and a half years left with the Gophers. She might also compete in the 2014 Olympics — not that she’ll mention it.
“She’ll never talk about it,” said Sydney Fabian, Brandt’s high school teammate and a current Gophers softball player. “We’ll be like, ‘Hannah, you’re going to the Olympics,’ and she’ll be like, ‘Oh, whatever guys,’ and just laugh.”
Brandt remembers the conversation she had with Schafhauser.
She said she never really understood what he meant by “world-class,” but she has an idea now.
“[In] eighth grade, you’re not really thinking about that,” Brandt said. “You’re just playing high school and trying to make a college team.”
Different than the rest
Schafhauser first saw Brandt skate in seventh grade. At the time, he told himself he could fix some of the things she was doing.
Then he realized he didn’t have to fix anything.
“She was doing those things because she was a level ahead of everybody,” Schafhauser said.
He said he’d never have another player like her.
Brandt was Minnesota Ms. Hockey in 2012 after a season in which she recorded 90 points in 26 games.
Schafhauser said those numbers probably could have been higher if Brandt had cared about her point total.
“Sometimes she probably should have shot instead of [passed],” he said, “but that’s just who she is.”
Fabian played with Brandt from eighth grade through their senior year. She said she knew there was something special about Brandt from the first game they played together.
“We were 13, and she’s playing with 18-year-olds and killing them, making plays that eighth graders shouldn’t make,” Fabian said. “By her senior year, it was like no one could even compare to how good she is.”
Margo Lund, Brandt’s former teammate at Hill-Murray who now plays hockey at St. Lawrence University, called Brandt the ideal teammate.
“She never wants to take credit for anything even though she obviously makes a huge impact,” Lund said. “She really likes to give credit to her teammates.”
Brandt and Lund were linemates at Hill-Murray. Lund said their coach repeatedly told her to keep her stick on the ice at all times when playing with Brandt because Brandt could get the puck to her no matter where she was at.
“She’s just always in the right place,” Lund said. “She’s probably the most natural-born goal scorer I’ve ever gotten to play with.”
Brandt competed in the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation for the U.S. Frost said her experiences with USA Hockey helped accelerate her adjustment to college hockey.
In Brandt’s first game with the Gophers, she scored three goals against Colgate. The next night, she had two goals and four assists.
She’s not the flashiest player on the ice, but she has a strong finishing touch.
“You necessarily don’t see her on the ice, but when she gets the puck, she scores,” senior goaltender Noora Räty said. “She’s the type of player that sees the ice well and finds the open spots.”
Räty said Brandt drives her nuts in practice sometimes.
“I think I’m going to make the save, and then somehow she scores anyways,” Räty said.
Brandt also has natural anticipation skills and a sense for the game. Schafhauser said Brandt sees the game a “couple steps ahead of everybody else.”
Frost said the first thing he noticed about Brandt was her intelligence as a hockey player.
“You can try and teach people where to go and why, but Hannah’s got that,” Frost said. “You know not to teach her.”
Road to the U
Brandt wanted to attend Minnesota from a young age.
“I looked a little bit at Wisconsin,” she said, “but I think that was just in case Minnesota didn’t want me.”
The Gophers did want her.
“I was so happy for her … [that] she was going to be challenged again and playing with some players that would push her to another level,” Schafhauser said.
Fabian said once Brandt committed, she didn’t tell the team for about three weeks. She said Brandt was too humble to say anything about it.
That’s an adjective many people use to describe her.
“I don’t think she realizes sometimes how good she is,” Kessel said.
Frost said that when Brandt committed, he knew she would play on a line with Kessel.
“When you have two players that can anticipate the way they do and know where the other is going to be, it makes them that much more dangerous,” Frost said.
Kessel said it’s awesome to play with someone who thinks like her on the ice.
Brandt centers the Gophers’ first line, which has accounted for nearly 43 percent of the team’s points. She said she expected to have a good year — but not this good of a start.
“I have to give the credit to my linemates,” Brandt said. “Without those two I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now.”
Kessel said the first line, which also includes freshman Maryanne Menefee, has come together more quickly than she expected.
But Brandt’s success doesn’t surprise Kessel.
“Knowing that we lost a few key players from last year, I think she’s someone that we were planning to come in and have a huge year,” Kessel said.
Brandt said playing with Kessel reminds her of playing with her sister Marissa because each always knew what the other was going to do.
Marissa Brandt, a sophomore collegiate hockey player at Gustavus Adolphus College, said she couldn’t be prouder of her sister.
“Even though she’s younger, I still look up to her,” Marissa Brandt said.
Marissa Brandt said Hannah loves hockey so much that she might die without it.
Luckily for her — and for the Gophers — hockey isn’t going anywhere any time soon.