Once of the rising stars on this team is Amanda Kessel. Kessel scored the game-winning goal tonight with a laser of a wrist shot over Shannon Szabados' shoulder as she kept on a 2-on-1. Clearly, she made the right choice with the puck, but why should she doubt herself after coming off one of the best seasons of hockey ever seen in NCAA hockey? If there was any doubt in her ability, she buried that doubt and then danced on its grave with her play over the last few months.
Amanda Kessel finished off a perfect season - literally - by scoring twice in the NCAA Championship game against Boston University to lead the Golden Gophers to a 6-3 win and a 41-0 season. That win marked the first time in NCAA women's hockey history that any team had gone undefeated in the 13-year history of the collegiate program. Kessel was named as the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, given to collegiate hockey's best female player, and she won this award with little competition. In 38 games, Kessel racked up 46 goals and 55 assists - only the fourth time a woman has broken the 100-point barrier in collegiate hockey. She more than doubled her freshman season total of 50 points in 38 games, showing that her game is improving by leaps and bounds. After having hip surgery last summer that caused her pain during the hockey season, the repairs done seem to have worked wonders as her skating and shot have been better than ever. And that only means trouble for opposing goalies.
The scary part? She's just a junior in college!
Now, the 21 year-old can add "gold medal-winning goal" to her resumé as she fired home the winner earlier tonight at 3:09 of the third period. For years, Canada has been carried by Hayley Wickenheiser in terms of offensive talent and pure hockey love. America used to have Cammi Granato to look to when it came to women's hockey, but her retirement has left a void in terms of a face of Team USA women's hockey. If they need someone to lead this program, hitching their wagons to the rising star known as Amanda Kessel would be nothing but a great idea.
Kessel will be a fixture on the American team's roster for a long time, and, judging from her ability, she should become one of the best scoring threats in women's hockey on the planet. That's not to say that she isn't near that point now, but she's still just 21. Leap forward five years, and we could be talking about records set by Kessel in various tournaments. While I'm not one to hype the play of a player, Kessel's play and past statistics seem to indicate that she's on the precipice of being the face of women's hockey in America for a long time.
My congratulations go out to Amanda Kessel and the American women's team. Kessel didn't lead the team in scoring, but she accepted the responsibility of being a big gun in this tournament, and responded in spades. While it takes a team to win - and it did tonight - Team USA earned the gold medal with their play tonight.
Expect to see Kessel and her teammates do well in Sochi. She'll be a fixture on the women's scene for a long, long time.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!