Brandt finds niche as go-to player

Hannah Brandt leads the entire NCAA with 39 points this season.
Minnesota forward Hannah Brandt waits for the puck to be dropped Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at TCF Bank Stadium.
January 23, 2014

Sophomore forward Hannah Brandt currently leads the nation in points.

But ask her about it and she’s the first to downplay her success.

“I mean, I wouldn’t have thought I am [the top scorer in the nation] because I don’t feel like I have that many points,” Brandt said. “But I guess that’s cool.”

The Gophers lost a bulk of their scoring production from last year’s team to graduation and the Olympics.

Amanda Kessel, who is playing in the Olympics this year, led the nation in points last season. Her linemate, Brandt, came in second.

“I knew that I was going to be one of the people counted on this year, but I also knew we were going to have a bunch of other people step up,” Brandt said.

Minnesota has seven players who’ve recorded 20 or more points through 24 games.

The Gophers’ balanced lineup is a piece of what has made the team so potent thus far.

And Brandt is one of the most dynamic threats in the lineup.

After a prolific freshman season in which she recorded 82 points, Brandt began this season racking up most of her points on assists, but goals didn’t come as easily.

She scored a goal in the first game of the season but after that went six games without another.

“I was still getting assists, so I knew I was still doing something right,” she said.

But it was only a matter of time before the shots started to find the net.

“It just gets a little frustrating because it feels like every time you shoot it, it just doesn’t go in,” Brandt said. “But eventually … when you get one, you’re like, ‘OK, I can still score.’”

Brandt had good looks early in the season but seemed to always hit the posts and crossbar.

“She’d probably have 10 more goals if those [shots] would have hit the post and gone in,” head coach Brad Frost said.

Frost said with Brandt’s personality and abilities, he knew she’d be able to work through it.

She has.

“I knew eventually [goals] would come,” Brandt said. “I would eventually lower the puck an inch or whatever it was, and it finally started happening. I just wasn’t getting any lucky breaks like I did last year.”

Brandt recorded a hat trick in the first game of the second half of the season, which she said was a “good confidence boost” for her.

Frost said Brandt probably has the best release on the team.

Yet Brandt often opts to pass, currently leading the team with 25 assists.

“She’s one of those [players] like Kessel who can finish at a high rate but prefers to make a great pass instead of a great shot,” Frost said. “Something for her that she’s had to figure out is to shoot the puck a little more.”

Brandt said when she loses confidence she tends to pass more than she already does.

Sophomore forward Maryanne Menefee, Brandt’s linemate, said both she and Brandt like to pass the puck rather than shoot it.

“Last year, me and Hannah, we would always be like, ‘Look for Kessel. Look for Kessel,’” Menefee said.

This year, with Kessel gone, Brandt has told forced to shoot more.

Brandt’s line sets a goal to shoot 12 times per game, but Brandt said that goal gets adjusted based on the opponent and the line’s performance the night before.

She’s already taken 100 shots this season — good for fourth on the team — compared to 154 all of last year.

“Coach Frost gets on me a lot about that, but I think I’ve been shooting more, so hopefully he’s been happier with that,” Brandt said.

It’s paid off. And now, quietly, Brandt leads the nation with 39 points.

“There’s not a lot of flash to her,” Frost said. “There’s not a lot of attention that she needs. She just goes out and plays hockey because she loves it.”

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