SOCHI, Russia - Among the thousands of athletes who are gearing up for competition at the Sochi Olympics is University of Minnesota standout Amanda Kessel.
Kessel had offseason surgery to repair a hip injury and she did not play any major games in the lead-up to Sochi.
"It's amazing (to be back on the ice)," Kessel told KARE 11's Dave Schwartz. "It's been a really long year for me, battling through things. With the help of my staff and my teammates, I'm back to where I want to be."
She said even though she has missed much of the year, she is ready and motivated.
"This is the time of the year you want to be playing," she said with a smile.
Kessel said she would have preferred to have been on the ice leading up to the games, but she understood it was best to be 100 percent healthy before returning to practice.
"Obviously, during the Olympic year, you want to be playing and playing your best hockey, but I think I really had the support of my teammates and that's what kept me going."
Kessel and Team USA will begin competition on Saturday when they face Finland.
The Americans lost to Finland the last time the two nations played, at the Four Nations Cup in November, a game that Kessel missed.
Kessel will face Finnish goalie Noora Raty, her Minnesota teammate. The two stars led Minnesota to an undefeated season and the NCAA title in 2013.
"I think you need to get a lot of shots on Noora," Kessel said. "(She's) obviously a great goalie. You aren't going to beat her on the first shot, so you have to look for the rebounds and the dirty goals."
For coverage of Minnesota Olympians, Bea Change and Dave Schwartz, go to www.kare11.com/sports/road-to-sochi.
For more on NBC's Olympic coverage and streaming, go to www.nbcolympics.com/kare.