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by Aaron Paitich / Minnesota Wild

Making it to the World Women’s U-18 Championship is no leisurely skate in the pleasure rink. One long, rigorous tryout follows the next. A player needs to first advance through her own state, then the national development camp, the U-18 select team – and finally, the roster is cut down to the U-18 National team.

Six Minnesotans persevered through the gauntlet, making the State of Hockey the most represented state.

Hill-Murray forward Hannah Brandt, Breck defenseman Milica McMillen, Roseville defenseman Lee Stecklein, Roseau forward Abby Ness, along with Warroad’s Layla Marvin and Karley Sylvester represented Team USA in the tournament.

In early January, the group was instrumental in helping Team USA to the 2011 World Women’s U-18 Championship gold medal in Stockholm, Sweden.

And they did so in fine fashion. Through all five games, Team USA outscored its opponents 57-4. The closest game was a 5-2 championship victory over Canada.

Our hometown heroes tallied a combined 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists) and two players earned impressive individual honors.

Hannah Brandt: Selected as one of three Best Players on Team USA

Brandt, a three-time All-Conference, two-time All-State honoree at Hill-Murray, scored one goal and added three assists in the championship game against Canada.

“The first time you put on the jersey is an amazing experience, but you get the goose bumps every time,” Brandt said. “It’s something I want to do again. I hope.”

Brandt will get another shot very soon. This time it’ll be for the highest level in women’s hockey. Brandt was the only player from the U-18 team invited to tryout for the USA Women’s National Team the first week of April.

“I don’t know what my chances are, but to get asked to try out is very cool,” she said.

The junior forward and Vadnais Heights native has committed to play for the University of Minnesota. Her trip to Sweden was the first time she’d been overseas. It probably won’t be her last.

“Just to be there with all the other countries and get to meet a bunch of people that you would never normally get to meet was amazing,” said Brandt, who also plays soccer for Hill-Murray.

Brandt didn’t just meet other players. She got a special chance to connect with distant relatives who live in Sweden, just five hours away from where the tournament was played. The relatives came and watched Brandt play, and afterward they got a chance to visit for a while.

A Stockholm bus tour, some shopping, hockey and two weeks later, Brandt returned home with a World Championship, high honors and an exciting tryout invite.

“You want to represent your state,” Brandt said. “I know there are a lot of other people that deserve to be there, too. They could have been there in front of me. It’s so competitive.”

“I just felt lucky even being there, and I just wanted to do my best and represent Minnesota well.”

Milica McMillen: Selected as Best Defenseman of the entire tournament

All-Tournament Team at State as an eighth grader, All-Conference, All-Metro, All-State, All-Everything for the Breck Mustangs. The self-proclaimed “semi-offensive defenseman” scored four goals and added two assists in the tournament.

McMillen was humbled.

“Getting that award was surprising,” the 5-foot-10 defenseman said. “I wasn’t expecting it. There were really good players on my team, and the teams we played.”

McMillen is solid on both ends of the ice. She likes to rush the puck, utilize the toe drag and can crank a heavy slap shot from the point.

The junior has committed to play for the University of Minnesota after high school, but she also wants to wear the Red, White and Blue again in the near future.

“I hope so. I’m aiming for that,” McMillen said. “I’m going to keep working hard and hopefully that will come.”

While all of these players are now focused on the task at hand – making it to the state tournament – their shared experience will not soon be forgotten.

“We became closer as the tournament went on,” McMillen said. “Obviously we bonded with the rest of our teammates, but now that we’re back we have that connection even when we’re playing against each other.”
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