Tuesday, 21 July 2015

NCAA Loses An Icon

Non-Minnesota women's collegiate hockey fans can sleep a little sounder tonight as Minnesota's #8 will no longer haunt their dreams of a national college championship. It is with great sadness, though, that I'm reporting that Amanda Kessel will hang up her skates for the Golden Gophers after lingering concussion effects have put her playing career in serious doubt. The former Patty Kazmeier Award winner will sit out her senior year to allow her brain to heal in the hopes that she'll be able to return to play for the US National Team at some point in her career.

"It's just not worth it for her and her health," Gophers head coach Brad Frost told the Grand Forks Herald. The 23 year-old sustained her concussion while with the US National Team, and hasn't been able to return to the ice for neither the Gophers or Team USA since suffering the concussion before the Sochi Olympics. While she did compete in the Olympics, the symptoms grew increasingly worse, keeping off the ice and, ultimately, forcing her to take a year off of school in order to recover from the injury. While Minnesota still won the NCAA Championship last year, the NCAA loses one of its most marketable stars while trying to sustain the sport's growth and popularity.

Frost told Minneapolis' Star Tribune on Tuesday, "After her missing last year and the severity of the concussions last year, we had a feeling that she was not going to be able to play for us unless things turned around. We've had some discussions with Amanda and myself, but really, it's never even gotten to the point where hockey is something she would do with us again."

Honestly, this is about as bad as it gets for women's hockey. This is akin to Sidney Crosby's sabbatical from the NHL after he sustained a major concussion where the league lost its most marketable star. Of course, the NHL didn't fall apart and neither will the NCAA under this news, but losing a player as dynamic and creative as Kessel has to come as a major blow when there are chances that the Gophers could repeat and have Kessel return in a somewhat fairy tale ending to her collegiate career.

That, however, will not happen.

"I've had an unforgettable experience at the University of Minnesota thus far, so I'm disappointed that I won't be able to return to the team this year," Kessel said in a statement. "It's obviously a difficult decision and one that I've taken time to come to terms with. As someone who has played through a lot of injuries, it wasn't until suffering a concussion that I fully understood the importance of being 100 percent healthy when I'm on the ice. Unfortunately, that isn't the case right now."

I fully support and endorse Amanda Kessel for making this difficult decision. She has a long life ahead of her where she will make an impact, but she can't do it if she can't get out of bed in the morning because of concussion symptoms. Walking away from the sport you love is a reality a lot of athletes face, but few face it will in the prime of their lives and careers where championships and Olympic dreams are involved. The fact that Kessel has the strength to walk away at this point in her career shows her incredible strength and mental fortitude, and I commend her for not putting the potential short-term rewards ahead of her long-term health and happiness.

Some players go their entire careers without any long-term injuries without ever winning a championship in their respective sports. Amanda Kessel has been named the best player in NCAA Women's Hockey and has won an NCAA Championship while being part of the NCAA's undefeated hockey team in history. Despite being just 23 years-old, she has accomplished more in her short time on the planet than some do in their entire lives. And she still has a ton of time to accomplish more.

Amanda's decision today shouldn't be met with sadness. It should be embraced and celebrated. Rather than being held back by the crushing symptoms of a concussion, Amanda will be able to finish her college degree and continue being the best Amanda Kessel she can be. She may not be able to do that on the ice depending on how she feels, but the fact that she chose her long-term future over a shot at one more NCAA championship says a lot about the mind of Amanda Kessel and how clearly she is thinking.

She'll always be a champion in my books.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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