Gophers Sign Four to National Letters of Intent
University of Minnesota women’s hockey head coach Laura Halldorson has announced that forwards Kelli Blankenship (Lusby, Md.) and Brittany Francis (Thunder Bay, Ont.) and defensemen Michelle Maunu (Esko, Minn.) and Alexandra Zebro (Oak Grove, Minn.) have signed NCAA National Letters of Intent and will join the Gopher women’s hockey team in the fall of 2006.
“This is a wonderful group of four student-athletes who will make us a better team next year,” Halldorson said. “Not only are they talented hockey players, they are also successful students and great people. I’m excited for them to arrive next fall.”
Blankenship, who attends the North American Hockey Academy, scored a career high 33 goals and 39 assists for 72 points last year as the team posted a 41-12-10 record. She was named the NAHA Offensive Player of the Year and was the point leader for her team the past two years. This season, Blankenship leads the NAHA Winter Hawks White team with nine points in 15 games played. A known player in the USA Hockey realm, Blankenship was invited to the National Development Camp the past four years. Blankenship scored a goal and three assists to lead her team to the USA Hockey 17/18 Championship in 2005. Originally hailing from Florida, Blankenship competed with numerous teams, including the South Florida Golden Wolves Under-19 and the Florida Coyotes Under-15 teams.
“Kelli was one of the top players in Lake Placid last summer at the USA Hockey camp,” Halldorson said. “She is a big, strong forward who can put points on the board. We are fortunate to have a player of her caliber leave the East and join us at the University of Minnesota.”
Francis is in her final year with the Toronto Junior Aeros and has currently scored five goals and five assists in six games played. Francis holds the role of an assistant captain for her final year with the Aeros. Last year, Francis scored 28 goals and 34 assists for 62 points. As member of the Junior Aeros, Francis was on the 2005 Provincial Women’s Hockey League regular season and tournament championship teams and the Ontario Provincial champions. She also earned a silver medal at the Ontario Winter Games in the 2003 season. Hailing from Thunder Bay, Francis competed with the Thunder Bay Thunder Boys AAA team and the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks girls AAA summer teams. In the 2001-02 season, Francis was named the league’s Best Offensive/Defensive Player in Boys A Hockey.
“Brittany is a skilled forward who plays for a very successful Toronto Aeros program,” Halldorson said. I expect her to make an immediate contribution and give us more depth at the forward position.”
Maunu, who plays at Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, is a three-time all-state honoree from 2003 -2005. In 2005, Maunu was named to the Minnesota state high school league’s all- tournament team when she helped the Lumberjacks to a Class AA state runner-up title. Maunu was also a three-year participant of the USA Hockey Development Camp in 2002, 2004 and 2005. In 2003, Maunu was one of five United States players to compete at the IIHF Women’s Development Camp, in Vierumaki, Finland, bringing together hockey players from 27 different countries. Along with her hockey ability, Maunu is also a six-year letterwinner in soccer and golf and a two-year letterwinner in football. Maunu competed as the Eskomos’ kicker her junior and senior seasons. As a four-sport athlete, Maunu has been to the state championship in every sport.
“Michelle is a talented defenseman who makes good decisions with the puck,” Halldorson said. “Besides playing well defensively, we expect her to contribute offensively, too.”
Zebro, who is home schooled through Faithful Family Academy, plays with the St. Francis/ North Branch high school team. In her tenure, the 6-foot 0-inch defenseman has earned five varsity letters with St. Francis and was a North Suburban All-Conference selection her sophomore and junior seasons. Last year, Zebro tallied 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points and an all-state selection as the team held a 17-5-4 record. Zebro is entering her senior season as a three-year team captain, dating back to 2003, and named the team’s rookie of the year in 2001. Zebro has also competed at the USA Hockey National Development Camp from 2003-2005.
“Alexandra is a lanky defenseman with tremendous potential,” Halldorson said. “With her size, attitude, and work ethic, I expect her to help us right away.”
“Both of the defensemen that we have signed are successful young women from Minnesota who have excelled in the classroom and on the ice,” Halldorson said. “They will be great additions to our program.”