Amanda Kessel: From sidelined to superstar

The Minnesota Golden Gophers got a boost when standout Amanda Kessel, last seen helping guide the Gophers to an undefeated championship season, announced that she'd return for her final semester of eligibility. (Photo: Michelle Jay/Along the Boards)
Amanda Kessel: From sidelined to superstar
Taylor Sedona Clark

Just a few months ago it was unclear if Amanda Kessel would ever play hockey again, let alone sign with the NWHL. Her future looked uncertain after a concussion sidelined her after the Sochi Olympics. Then Kessel stunned in her debut back with the Minnesota Gophers and her future looked brighter than ever. Though she missed almost two full seasons it’s like Kessel hasn’t missed a stride and is back to taking the Women’s Hockey world by storm.

On May 1, 2016, Kessel signed with the New York Riveters for the highest paying contract the league has seen at $26,000.

Welcome to New York

Kessel was contacted by both the NWHL and the CWHL, but the decision to play in the NWHL was centered around two things: that the league pays its players and the fact that’s it is an American league. While there was the possibility of staying with the Whitecaps in the Minnesota area, it was never really an option in Kessel’s mind.

“I think that it’s awesome that we have a chance to actually be paid and be called true professionals in our sport,” Kessel said. “I knew that I wanted the opportunity to be a part of that.”

It seems that picking which team to sign with was almost as straight-forward for Kessel as deciding which league to play in. Kessel was not drafted, so no team held her rights and she was able to talk with different teams. But it was her discussions with New York Riveters’ coach Chad Wiseman that swayed her decision.

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

“He’s a passionate guy about what he does and he sacrifices a lot to be a coach. I really appreciate that and I know that I’ll be getting a good coach there.”

Wiseman certainly kept his eye on Kessel, especially as she made her way back into college hockey. How could a coach not keep their eye on the biggest free agent?

“She was a top priority for us, making sure we got that signing,” Wiseman said. “We evaluated her and thought she was the number one free agent out there as a forward. Me made other moves going out, knowing that we wanted to sign her and traded for Hannah Brandt with Connecticut knowing that they were teammates, and they might want to play together again.”

Kessel’s contract is expensive but Wiseman feels they’ve spent that money wisely.

“We wanted to get the signing done right away on day one, and threw out some extra money,” Wiseman said. “We think it’s money well-spent, for sure. We evaluated her at number one and at the end of the day you have to do what you have to do to get her on the team. We’re fortunate enough that she chose to come to New York.”

Kessel acknowledged that is was obvious that the Boston Pride is a pretty heavily stacked team, and the other teams in the league have some high profile players as well. She looks forward to helping build the Riveters up and continue to add more talent to the team. The challenge of playing against the other talented teams is something that she looks forward to.

The backdrop location of New York also helped Kessel in her decision. She had the opportunity to have an internship in New York City a few years back and appreciated the city. New York is a huge market and Kessel believes it’s one of the more exciting places to play hockey.

It was all of these factors that helped Kessel decide that the Riveters would be a great team to sign with.

The Brandt factor

Kessel also looks forward to hopefully playing with former teammate and good friend Hannah Brandt. The Riveters had traded for Brandt’s draft rights only a few days prior to Kessel’s signing.

However, acquiring Brandt was more for the overall benefit of the Riveters rather than to just specifically lure Kessel in.

“We’re definitely short on centermen and Hannah Brandt maybe one of the top centermen, top forwards in the country as well,” Wiseman said. “Having that chemistry though is going to be a benefit.”

Kessel will see a face that she’s more used to facing off against in college in Madison Packer, but she’s excited to get the opportunity to finally play on the same side as her new teammate.

A plus of playing in the NWHL that Kessel looks forward to is the ability to stay in shape and compete at a high level. This work, she hopes, will help her when it comes to playing in the next Olympics with the US National Team.

No agent, no problem

What might be the most interesting part of Kessel’s journey to the NWHL however is the fact that she negotiated her deal with the Riveters herself. Kessel declined the privilege to an agent and decided herself what the best spot for her to sign would be.

“I didn’t necessarily think it [an agent] was needed at this point in time,” Kessel said when asked why she chose to go about negotiations on her own. “Although with the limited amount of money that we do make, I think it’s tough sometimes to want to give any away.”

When a player has an agent that agent is paid and often their pay is also based on what the player signs with a team for. With Kessel signing the largest deal in league history she might have had to pay her agent more than your typical player who makes close to league minimum.

Looking forward

Collegiate hockey has a certain level of physicality to it but the NWHL has also proven to display it’s own physical edge. But Kessel is not worried about this or her heath as a whole.

“Coming back for the college season, I never would have gotten back into hockey if I wanted 100 percent sure that I’d be healthy and have no concerns about my head,” Kessel said.

Kessel compares the physicality she’ll face in the NWHL to the physicality of the National Team level and what she experienced playing with the boys growing up.

“I don’t think it’ll be anything I haven’t seen before.”

Taylor Sedona Clark

Taylor is an Arizona native who is studying Sports Journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite Journalism School. When she's not watching hockey, or drinking copious amounts of coffee, she's planning trips to all 30 arenas. For spring break she flew all the way to Montreal to see the Bell Centre.

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