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Brand earns spot on U.S. 18-U squad

  McKenna Brand took the first major step to accomplishing her life-long dream.

     Brand was among 22 hockey players chosen for the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team. Those players – who are all Division I hockey prospects - competed in the 2013 Women’s Under-18 Series against Canada on Aug. 22-25 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Canada won the first two games of this three-game series by scores of 4-1 and 3-2 before the U.S. won the third game 3-2.

     Even though she didn’t record a goal or an assist, Brand was happy with how she played.

     “Making the 18-U team has been a dream of mine for such a long time. I can’t describe what it was like to put the jersey on and represent my country,” said Brand. “I had a great time. Canada is a very good team, but we pulled it together and won the last game. I thought I played well. I had a different role starting on the fourth line (as a forward) and playing on the penalty kill unit. I thought I did well with the role I had.”

     Making the 18-U team completed a long process for Brand, who is tied with Hannah Williams for third place on the all-time scoring list for the Park Rapids-Menahga-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls hockey team with 87 points. Brand led the Panthers in scoring as an eighth grader in 2009-10 with 20 goals and 15 assists for 35 points before tallying 37 goals and 15 assists for 52 points as a freshman in 2010-11. Brand still  holds school records for goals in season (37), goals in a career (57) and points in a season (52) and trails only Jessica Gapinski (99) and Kaitlyn Pickett (96) in career points despite playing only two seasons.

     During her sophomore season, Brand enrolled at the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, VT, where she continued her torrid scoring pace.

     “Obviously it was a hard decision. I’m very close to my family, but the NAHA is a great place and I’ve grown a lot as a person and a hockey player,” said Brand. “It’s a decision I’d make again.”

     In her first season for the NAHA Junior Red team, Brand had 29 goals and 18 assists for 47 points in 46 games. She also played 10 games for the Major White team, tallying three goals.

     In 78 games as a junior last season, Brand had 22 goals and 59 assists for 81 points for fourth place on the White team.

     Entering her senior season, Brand will be one of the leaders as a captain. Brand will also be counted on to pick up the scoring load for Annie Pankowski, who was chosen for the U.S. Olympic team after tallying 104 goals and 81 assists for 185 points in 78 games for NAHA last season.

     “I’m going to be counted on to be a goal scorer and leader,” said Brand. “I have some big shoes to fill, but I’m ready for it.”

     Brand tried out for the 18-U team last season, but was the last player cut. That provided even more incentive to make the team this year.

     The process was a long one as Brand tried out for the Minnesota Section 8 team last spring and advanced to the Minnesota Festival in Plymouth. Eight forwards, four defensemen and a goalie from Minnesota advanced to the national camp at St. Cloud. Out of 200 girls, the top 68 were chosen to play in two All-Star games. The top 30 players were selected for a week of testing, practice and games at Lake Placid Aug. 12-19 with the final 22 players chosen for the national 18-U team.

     Brand will compete for NAHA this winter before competing with the national team at the World Championships in April. After that, Brand will play collegiately at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Brand was also heavily recruited by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Harvard and Princeton, but decided to take a full scholarship to Northeastern.

     “I really liked the campus and the coaching staff is awesome,” said Brand. “It’s been a goal of mine since I was young (to play Division I hockey). It’s a huge accomplishment to commit to a college. I’m excited about Northeastern, but making the 18-U team was a bigger goal.”

     After making the 18-U team and earning a scholarship at a Division I college, Brand has one more major goal to accomplish.

     “My long-term goal is to make the 2018 Olympic team,” said Brand. “I like to dream big. Hopefully it happens. I’m going to keep working hard and try to make my dream come true.”