Gophers seek help behind dominant line

Minnesota wants someone not named Darwitz, Wendell or Stephens to step up.

by Bridget Haeg

With two Olympic veterans and one Olympic hopeful skating on the same line, any hockey fan could have predicted Minnesota’s women’s hockey team’s top line would be a dominant shift.

But this dominant?

The trio of senior Kelly Stephens and juniors Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell has combined to score 95 of the Gophers’ 167 points in 10 games played this season.

So while the top-ranked Gophers head into a bye weekend undefeated at 10-0-0, the team continues to work on spreading the scoring through its other lines.

“It’s something that we’re working on, that we want to get scoring from different sources,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “But we know that a big part of our offense comes from our power play and our top line.”

Clearly, Minnesota has succeeded offensively, as the three have helped the team to outscore its opponents 66-6.

When Wendell, Darwitz and Stephens combine with freshman forward Bobbi Ross and sophomore defender Lyndsay Wall on the power play, that special team alone has scored 128 of the team’s 167 points.

So far, the other lines have not approached the stats of the juggernaut top line – the other regular forwards who are not on the top line or power play have netted only 11 goals and 13 assists.

But the Gophers are quick to dispel any inquiries that the rest of the team is not contributing.

“The other lines, they’re getting a ton of chances,” Wendell said. “It’s just a matter of getting a bounce here, a bounce there for them.”

She might be onto something.

While the top line has fired 173 shots of its own, the rest of the team has combined to garner 251 on the season. In last weekend’s sweep of Ohio State, players not named Wendell, Darwitz, or Stephens took 50 of the team’s 98 shots. Junior defender Chelsey Brodt scored only once but tallied nine shots.

“The statistics don’t show how much everyone is contributing,” Ross said.

Ross cited the recent series versus Minnesota State-Mankato as a telling example, in which the top line furnished 18 of the team’s 29 points.

“One line went out and probably had the puck for the whole 30-second shift and never scored,” Ross said. “(The offense is) really coming from everywhere. It’s just not showing up on the (stat) sheet.”

In that series, the lines without Wendell, Darwitz and Stephens took more than 60 percent of the shots.

So what’s it going to take for the other lines to start putting the puck in the net?

“I think it’s just focus, and I think it’s just practice,” Halldorson said. “It’s just the mentality of shooting to score and having confidence in your abilities and your decision-making.”

Perhaps the practice time and coaching devoted to stimulating this offensive potential will help bring it around.

“It just takes time and practice to get that first couple in,” senior forward Stacy Troumbly said. “And we’re getting better and closer every game.”

While the other lines work on shooting to score, Wall has added some offense from the blue line, as her seven goals and 14 assists rank her sixth in the nation in scoring.

But while the top line racks up the points, the rest of the team doesn’t sit back and relax.

Well, maybe they sit back – but not to rest.

“They’re just fun to watch,” Troumbly said. “Whenever they go out there, it’s just like, ‘Ready for the show?’ “