Perhaps no team at the University of Minnesota felt the sting of its season being canceled more than the Gophers' women's hockey team. Minnesota was three wins away from its seventh national championship when the remainder of the season was called off over the coronavirus concerns.
Now, about three months before the 2020-21 season begins, the team is focused on the upcoming season and will return much of its roster from the previous season, including leading goal scorer Grace Zumwinkle.
Zumwinkle was a lightning bolt last season on the Gophers' offensive attack, not only leading the team in goals with 25, but also finishing second in points with 45. Sarah Potomak led the team with 46.
Nevertheless, Zumwinkle hasn't stopped working since the season was canceled. She's been able to practice on the ice in Prior Lake, Minnesota, but even when ice time was more difficult to come by, she found a way to continue to improve.
"During the season you don't get that much individual time to reflect and are mostly focused on the team and its system," she said. "I've mainly been focused on maintaining and even improving on generating scoring opportunities and getting pucks to the net."
Recently, she's been able to get back on the ice with teammates as they prep for the upcoming season.
"At first I was by myself on the ice when the quarantine rules in the state were more strict. Now that things are opening up, I can go practice more consistently and with some of my fellow teammates as well," Zumwinkle said. "A majority of the girls are skating together, and it's been great because new freshmen can be introduced to the team more smoothly."
Returning to the ice means the Gophers can continue to build team chemistry as they prep for the upcoming season. Zumwinkle is glad to have many of the same skaters on the ice next season.
"To have similar lines and D-pairs (defensive pairings) is nice because you have experience playing with each other and knowing how your styles and skills benefit each other to produce a great product out on the ice," she said.
Minnesota returns its starting defensemen in Emily Brown and Olivia Knowles and return three of its top five point scorers in Zumwinkle, Taylor Heise and Amy Potomak.
Zumwinkle looks forward to be a leader on the team next season, perhaps even as a captain or assistant — positions will be revealed next week.
"Since I know me and other seniors are people on the team that young players look up to, we want to increase our work ethic, be the first ones and last ones on the ice, and putting in that extra time is a big difference and creates a culture on our team that we work incredibly hard that we can pass on to next generations of hockey players on our team."