Gophers clinch WCHA crown

by Noah Seligman

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – With just under 10 minutes to play Saturday night at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota women’s hockey senior co-captain La Toya Clarke skated in alone and scored on a wrist shot off a St. Cloud State defenseman’s misplay.

Minnesota won the game 7-5 to complete the sweep, a night after struggling to pull out a 3-1 victory to clinch the WCHA regular season title.

Clarke’s four-on-four goal added to Minnesota’s (26-4-2, 19-3-2 WCHA) already sizable lead over the Huskies (7-24-1, 4-19-1), but was significant because it didn’t involve the line of Krissy Wendell, Natalie Darwitz or Kelly Stephens.

“Our line is pretty quiet and collected and we know we have a job to do,” Stephens said. “They put us together to get points and get the job done.”

The trio combined for six goals and five assists on Saturday and three goals and four assists on Friday. Overall, the line accounted for nine of Minnesota’s 10 goals and nine of the Gophers’ 14 assists.

The line was given a well-deserved rest for the last seven minutes of the game to give ice-time to some lesser-used players.

“There’s no question that line creates a lot of offense,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “They played a great game (Saturday) and showed why we put them together.”

Saturday night belonged to Wendell. She tallied four goals and one assist, finishing the regular season with 30 goals, beating her freshman total of 27.

Wendell put home a short-handed goal to open the scoring Saturday giving her six on the season and nine in her career, both school records.

She has four games this season with four or more points and 19 career points in six games against the Huskies.

“Krissy just put on a show,” St. Cloud State coach Jason Lesteberg said. “It’s tough to stop her when she gets going.”

Halldorson has been pleased with the emergence of her sophomore forward.

“Krissy has really stepped up this season,” Halldorson said. “She’s been playing extremely well this year. It’s nice to see her rewarded with those personal accolades.”

Wendell said she does not set individual goals for the season.

“Not really,” Wendell said. “Everybody has to be chipping in and doing their part.”

But Friday the Gophers had a tough time playing well even-strength. Minnesota notched all three of its goals on the power play.

After missing on a quality chance in the third period, senior forward Melissa Coulombe tapped her helmet in frustration, summing up the night for the Gophers.

Halldorson said she was worried about her team coming off a hard-fought sweep over three-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth on Feb. 28-29.

“Sometimes you have natural letdowns after big emotional games and maybe that had something to do with it,” Halldorson said. “But I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. We should have played better than we did (Friday).”