Gophers recover to win WCHA

Minnesota blew a 2-0 lead with less than a minute left but won 3-2 in overtime.

by Chris Lempesis

Just when it seemed as if Minnesota’s women’s hockey team was going to have the WCHA Tournament title taken away, the Gophers snatched it back even quicker.

Junior Krissy Wendell netted the game- and tournament-winning goal just 19 seconds into overtime as Minnesota downed Wisconsin 3-2 on Sunday at Ridder Arena to give the Gophers their second tournament title in a row and their third in four years.

“That was a barn-burner,” coach Laura Halldorson said.

“I’m proud of our effort, and it’s a great accomplishment.”

With top-ranked Minnesota (33-2-2) in a five-on-three power play to begin the extra period, Wendell took a cross-crease pass from senior Kelly Stephens and, despite not getting the best wood on the shot, got enough to get it past Badgers goaltender Meghan Horras.

The fact that an overtime session was even necessary is surprising, considering how Wisconsin (28-8-1) forced it.

With the Gophers ahead 2-0 late, and seemingly in full control of the game, the Badgers scored a pair of extra-attacker goals courtesy of Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Carla McLeod in a 26-second span of the final minute to even the score.

Despite blowing its commanding lead, Wendell said the team’s mood in the locker room wasn’t deflated.

“Once we got in the locker room, we were itching to get back out there,” she said. “We thought about it and wanted to get back out there and play right away.”

Part of this might have been because the Gophers were going to start the overtime with that five-on-three advantage.

The power play stemmed from two penalties called on Wisconsin in the final 14 seconds of the third period.

The late calls did not please Badgers coach Mark Johnson.

“I’m from the school that you want the players to decide the game,” Johnson said. “But they have a job to do, and they’re going to try to do it to the best of their abilities.”

Both of Minnesota’s first two goals Sunday also came on the power play.

Junior Natalie Darwitz, later named the most valuable player of the tournament, gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead with 4.4 seconds remaining in the second period.

Freshman Bobbi Ross doubled Minnesota’s lead at 5:26 of the third.

In all, the Gophers were 3-for-5 on the power play.

“(The power play is key) especially against a team like Wisconsin that’s so strong defensively in five-on-five,” Halldorson said. “We knew we’d have to take advantage of the power-play opportunities that we had.”

Minnesota also turned in a strong power-play performance in Saturday’s semifinal against Ohio State, but the final result wasn’t nearly as close.

The Gophers were 2-for-3 with the advantage in their commanding 7-1 win over the Buckeyes.

Junior Ashley Albrecht and freshman Erica McKenzie had the power-play goals. Darwitz had three of Minnesota’s five remaining goals with the other two going to sophomore Lyndsay Wall and freshman Liz Palkie.