NWHL's Minnesota Whitecaps sign two Team USA gold medalists

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Former Golden Gopher Hannah Brandt (20) wanted to stay in Minnesota and is excited to be part of the Whitecaps again.

The newest member of the NWHL was active in free agency on Wednesday morning.

After the Buffalo Beauts made a splash with the signings of Team USA gold medalists Nicole Hensley and Dani Cameranesi, the Minnesota Whitecaps added two national team members of their own.

Hannah Brandt and Lee Stecklein, both alumnae of the University of Minnesota, became the first national team players to sign a deal with the league's first expansion franchise. Goaltender Amanda Leveille was the first player to sign with the organization since joining the NWHL.

NWHL free agency opened on June 1, where each player in the league is declared a free agent for the upcoming season.

"This is an exciting opportunity to be part of the Whitecaps' inaugural season in the NWHL," said Brandt. "It's already an incredible organization, and hopefully we can take it to another level. Women's hockey in Minnesota gets bigger every year, and I look forward to seeing the impact a women's professional team will have. I hope to see many young girls in the stands who dream of playing pro hockey. It's an amazing feeling to be able to inspire future generations of players."

The forward scored 115 goals and 285 points over her career with the Golden Gophers, where she won three NCAA titles.

Brandt was drafted second overall by the Connecticut Whale in the 2015 draft but signed instead with the Whitecaps, then an independent team.

"I wanted to stay in Minnesota, and I'm really excited to be part of the Whitecaps again," Brandt said to the Minnesota Star-Tribune. "I'm biased, but I think Minnesota sets the standard for women's hockey. We should have a team in this league."

Stecklein, a native of Roseville, Minnesota, won gold medals at the IIHF World Championship in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The first team All-American at Minnesota tallied 93 points from the blue line.

"I'm really proud to join the NWHL as part of the Whitecaps, an organization with a long and rich history in the state of Minnesota," she said. "It's particularly gratifying to be part of this with the Brodt family, who have had a huge impact on my playing career. It would be great to win the Isobel Cup for Minnesota."

Stecklein was originally the second overall draft selection by the Beauts in 2016 but went straight to the national team having never played a game in Buffalo.

"I always hoped I'd get to play for the Whitecaps someday," she said to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "And to sign with Hannah and play here with her, I'm just so excited."

The duo have played together since 2010-11, when they won gold at U18 world championship with Team USA.

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