Amanda Kessel, Olympic silver medalist and prized New York Riveters signee has been invited to the 2016 US Women’s National Festival, which will take place Aug. 8-14, at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Kessel hasn’t participated in a U.S. Women’s National Team event since she was sidelined by post-concussion symptoms from a concussion she sustained just before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she posted 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) points in 5 games. This festival is her first invitation to take the ice with the women’s national team once again.
Although Kessel did play for the U.S. in those Olympic Games, she took nearly two years off from hockey afterwards and has only recently returned to the ice.
Kessel began playing with the Minnesota Golden Gophers once again during the 2015-2016 season and joined them in time to help her team win an NCAA National Championship against Boston College. Kessel signed with the New York Riveters of the NWHL shortly after for an historic $26,000 deal, thus far the highest contract awarded to an NWHL player.
The amount she negotiated for was unanticipated, but not outsized.
Kessel put up 248 points over the course of 127 collegiate hockey games. She won the Patty Kazmaier Award as a junior at Minnesota, and in the same year won USA Hockey’s Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year award.
She was named a ACHA/CCM Hockey First Team All-American, USCHO.com Co-Player of the Year and the WCHA Player of the Year. Kessel was also named to All-USCHO.com First Team and All-WCHA First Team. She earned the title of WCHA Scoring champion with 75 points in conference games and led the nation in scoring with a career-high 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists).
That year, Kessel became the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 100 points in a season, the 24th player in NCAA history to reach 200 career points, and only the ninth to do so in three seasons.
Kessel is sister to Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup-winning winger, Phil Kessel and has proved just as gifted as her sibling (if not more so).
Kessel has made no secret of the fact that she hopes to earn her way back to an Olympic roster spot in 2018, telling members of the media in a May telephone conference that finding her way back to the national team was one of the reasons she signed with the Riveters for the 2016-2017 season.
“I think if I want to play in the next Olympics and be a part of the national team [I have to] be in a competitive league and really practicing and playing a decent amount of games,” said Kessel when questioned about her motives in signing with the league.
“I think all the teams [in the NWHL] are going to be competitive this year and it’s going to be quite the challenge. As far as a player, I’m only going to get better by playing in the league.”
Indeed, Kessel likely negotiated such a high priced deal with the Riveters because of her national team hopes. Salaried players lose money for every game and practice they miss in the NWHL; out of that money ostensibly comes the practice players’ stipend for stepping in for a missing roster player.
Should Kessel return to the national team, she would almost certainly run into scheduling conflicts with the two organizations, as players did last year, and have to forgo some of her salary in order to attend national team camps or games.
Kessel was left off the off-ice June camp invites, which was not a positive sign for the forward from Madison, Wis., but also was not a death knell for her hopes. It’s possible that Kessel simply needed more time to reach a level of fitness conducive to re-joining the women’s national team.
Only one month later she has landed on a national team roster alongside players such as Kacey Bellamy, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker. Kessel is on her way to achieving her Olympic goal but there is still a lot of work ahead before final decisions are made for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Although she scored 17 points in only 13 games with Minnesota in her comeback over the winter, Kessel admitted that she felt weaker than she would like, saying she felt she wasn’t yet at the top of her game.
“Overall I was happy with where I was at, considering how long I was out,” Kessel said. “Somebody like me, who is extremely competitive, I wasn’t quite satisfied with where I was at, but I had to take a step back and look at how far I’d come.
“Eight to ten months ago if someone would have said that I would be playing college hockey this year and going on to play in the NWHL next year I wouldn’t have believed them,” Kessel added.