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NWHL

Kessel’s ‘almost impossible’ return to hockey brings her to Riveters

Apr. 09, 2013 - Ottawa, Ontario, Canada - BRIANNA DECKER, left, and AMANDA KESSEL celebrate as USA wins gold at the IIHF Women's World Championship, defeating Canada 3-2

Yesterday New York Riveters general manager Chad Wiseman shocked the women’s hockey world by signing Amanda Kessel to a one-year, $26,000 contract on the first day of unrestricted free agency.

In an interview with Today’s Slapshot last month, Wiseman made the Riveters’ need for talented athletes that came from winning traditions clear. Kessel is about as talented and decorated as they come, having won champions with both the University of Minnesota and the U.S. National Team.

“Amanda is a proven scorer and winner at every level,” observed Wiseman in the league’s press release. “She is an offensive threat every time she is on the ice. We believe signing Amanda is an important first step in addressing our biggest off season need.”

After missing the entire 2014-15 season with concussion symptoms Kessel rejoined her teammates at Minnesota to play 13 games, including the National Championship game. She scored the game-winning goal in the victory that brought the Golden Gophers their fourth national title in five years.

Despite scoring 17 points in her 13 games with Minnesota after returning from her injury concerns in the winter, Kessel admitted to feeling weaker than she was used to while talking to the media in a conference call today. Getting her strength back will be a focus for her throughout the summer as the NWHL season approaches.

Apr. 09, 2013 - Ottawa, ONT, CAN - US player Amanda Kessel(28) during the Gold medal game at the IIHF Women's World Championship between Canada and USA

Apr. 09, 2013 – Ottawa, ONT, CAN – US player Amanda Kessel (28) during the Gold medal game at the IIHF Women’s World Championship. Photographer: Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

“Overall I was happy with where I was at, considering how long I was out,” Kessel reflected. “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.”

Kessel said she felt better with each game she played and expressed excitement about getting back into the weight room and training the way that she used to before her injury forced her to step away from hockey.

When asked about how far away a return to college hockey, winning the National Championship, and signing with the NWHL felt last fall Kessel’s answer was both honest and moving.

“Almost impossible. 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.”

With her health back where she needs it to be to play hockey and with a storybook ending to her career at Minnesota, her focus now turns to competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics and making a positive impact with the Riveters.

During the conference call with the media, it was clear that Wiseman had been targeting and pursuing Kessel for awhile. It was also clear that Wiseman succeeding in making New York and the “fast and good skating team” he has been putting together appeal to the fleet-footed Kessel.

“I had a lot of conversations with Chad [Wiseman]. I really like his approach to the league and to the game. I can tell he’s a really passionate guy and I really appreciate that. That was a big draw for me.”

In addition to Kessel signing the largest contract in the history of the NWHL, the Riveters also traded for the rights to Hannah Brandt, her teammate and linemate at Minnesota. When asked about what she thought about continuing to play with Brandt, Kessel’s excitement at the prospect of continuing to play with her was clear.

“Obviously a really good friend of mine and an unbelievable player. I’m hoping she’s that going to sign here. It would be fun to play with her at a different level.”

If Wiseman can sign Brandt who was acquired for a $2,000 draft tax and the rights to Dana Trivigno, he will have the undeniable chemistry of two of college hockey’s best players on his top line to build his offense around. Quite the difference from last year’s Riveters offense, which was the worst in the league.

The Riveters’ new general manager has already stolen most of the headlines this offseason and it looks like he could just be getting started.

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