Incredibly, Amanda Kessel is back.
It was widely believed the 24-year-old hockey star, and younger sister of Pittsburgh Penguins sniper Phil Kessel, would never play for the University of Minnesota Gophers again.
Lingering concussion symptoms kept Kessel off the ice for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, and her persistent health concerns threatened to rule out participation in 2015-16 — her final year of eligibility.
Now, as women’s hockey head coach Brad Frost announced Wednesday, Kessel has returned to the Gophers for the remainder of the season.
“I’m so happy to be playing hockey again,” Kessel said, via team release. “I’m not suffering from any concussion symptoms, and I’ve been evaluated by a number of physicians who have cleared me to play. I feel great, and I'm looking forward to being back on the ice with my teammates on game day.
“Sometimes difficult things happen in life, and they only make you stronger. It was extremely challenging, but I did everything I could to get healthy. I’m grateful for everyone who helped and supported me throughout the difficult times. I wouldn't be in this position without them. I cannot wait to be back out there doing what I love to do while representing the University of Minnesota.”
The 2013 Patty Kazmaier award winner accumulated 97 goals and 134 assists in three college seasons. Had head injuries not shortened her NCAA career, she may have already become the league's all-time highest scorer.
Kessel sustained a concussion while playing for the U.S. national team and has not played since winning a silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
"We're excited to have Amanda returning to the lineup," Frost said. "Her recovery and overall health have always been most important, and we weren't sure if she would have the opportunity to play college hockey again. Knowing that Amanda and the team of doctors working with her have determined she is healthy and ready to resume playing is certainly great news.
"She has always been a part of our program, and we're happy she has a chance to finish out her college career on the ice along with completing her coursework and getting her degree this spring.”
Despite playing without Kessel last season, Minnesota won its third national title in four years.
Kessel and the No. 3-ranked Gophers (24-3-0, 19-3-0 WCHA) host North Dakota at Ridder Arena Friday and Saturday.