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Whitecaps rookie Brandt living a once-impossible childhood dream

After striking gold with Team USA, Brandt is on a mission to help the ‘expansion’ Whitecaps win it all.
Kirsten Burton

Kirsten Burton

Hannah Brandt’s rookie experience with the Minnesota Whitecaps is unique. Unlike those skating with the Riveters or Beauts or Pride or Whale, Brandt was able to grow up dreaming of someday pulling on a Whitecaps jersey.

Most teams in the NWHL have only been around since the league formed in 2015, but the Whitecaps were founded in 2004, and Brandtremembers watching the team play in its CWHL days. She remembers the move to the independent circuit. And she remembers watching the now 40-year-old Winny Brodt-Brown patrol the ice back during the days when the Whitecaps’ veteran leader was helping groom Brandt and others for the next step in their careers. “Now to be on the same team with Winny after all of that is a lot of fun,” Brandt said. “I didn’t know if it would ever happen. She always said she was going to play until she could play on a team with me and Lee Stecklein, so it’s crazy that it actually happened.”

Brandt, 25, was one of the Whitecaps’ big-ticket off-season additions shortly after the club had been announced as the NWHL’s newest entry. However, this actually happens to be Brandt’s second season with the club, another way in which she differs from her freshmen counterparts. The former University of Minnesota captain, who played her final NCAA campaign in 2015-16, joined the then-independent Whitecaps to play some competitive games against top college teams during the 2016-17 season. And after a 2017-18 campaign spent gearing up for – and winning Olympic gold with – Team USA in Pyeongchang, Brandt found herself with the newly minted NWHL Whitecaps.

Despite playing with the team previously, there’s still been an adjustment. “At the pro level, players are bigger, stronger than they were in college. Faster, maybe,” Brandt said. “System-wise, everyone has different systems because we all played on our respective college teams, so getting used to playing with players that played man-on-man in the ‘D’ zone, whereas at Minnesota we played a different system…getting used to that and getting on the same page has been a slight adjustment.”

As an independent club, practices were few and far between. Now in the pro league, the Whitecaps have been able to iron out the kinks and get up to speed faster than ever. That can be seen in Brandt’s game and in the Whitecaps’ performance. The rookie winger had three goals and six points in 10 games entering the new year, and Minnesota started 2019 atop the league standings at 7-3-0.

Neither Brandt nor her team has any designs on slowing down in the second half. For the American standout, another trip to the World Championship is in on the horizon after an excellent showing at the 4 Nations Cup earlier in 2018, while Minnesota has its sights set on an inaugural campaign to remember. “You can never stop learning, and playing with a lot of players that I haven’t played with in the past, I can learn from them,” Brandt said. “It’s just a great opportunity to play those games. And as a team, our goal is pretty obvious, to win the whole thing. We want to come in the first year and make a statement.”

NWHL ROOKIES TO WATCH

1. Dani Cameranesi, RW
Age: 23Team: Buffalo
Three-goal, five-point performance in Pyeongchang for Team USA put her on the map as a star, and she has shown no signs of slowing down.

2.Kaitlin Burt, G
Age: 21Team: Boston
Dominant NCAA career at Boston College shot her into the starting role with the Pride, and she’s answered the bell. American keeper has outsized potential.

3. Lee Stecklein, D
Age: 24Team: Minnesota
Another protege of Winny Brodt-Brown, she has all the trappings of a Team USA mainstay. Steady defender already has Olympic gold and silver on her resume.

4.Nicole Hensley, G
Age: 24Team: buffalo
After perfect game in Olympics, she is challenging – and besting – Shannon Szabados in Buffalo’s crease. League-best stats entering NWHL’s second half.

5.Savannah Harmon, D
Age: 23Team: Buffalo
Won consecutive NCAA championships captaining a powerhouse at Clarkson and has her sights set on playing her way onto the U.S. national team roster.

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