Healthy Wendell’s two hat tricks translate to sweep

Minnesota beat Northeastern 8-1 Friday and No. 4 Harvard 5-3 Saturday.

Bridget Haeg

When it headed out East this weekend, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team faced one certain challenge and one potential challenge.

The first: playing fourth-ranked Harvard. The second: playing fourth-ranked Harvard without the help of its team captain and the nation’s leading scorer, Krissy Wendell.

But when the junior forward, who left Minnesota’s Nov. 20 game versus Minnesota-Duluth with an abdominal wall contusion, stepped on the ice Friday, that second challenge was erased.

Wendell went on to score two hat tricks in as many games, leading Minnesota to an 8-1 win over Northeastern (2-10-1) Friday and a 5-3 victory over Harvard (6-3-1) Saturday in the Harvard Shootout in Cambridge, Mass.

“Everyone else was ready to step up and play if they needed to,” senior goaltender Jody Horak said. “But, definitely, to have her back in the lineup is a huge boost for our team.”

The Gophers (13-0-1, 11-0-1 WCHA) needed that boost in the rematch of last year’s national championship versus the Crimson.

“I had told the team ahead of time that it was going to have the feel of our Duluth series, where it was just a higher level of play,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “It really was.”

The Crimson was able to match the Gophers’ offense, posting 23 shots to Minnesota’s 25.

Horak said the Crimson came up with quality shots, proving to be of the highest offensive caliber the Gophers have seen so far.

“They roll three lines pretty well,” Horak said. “And they are all pretty good lines.”

Horak mustered 20 saves, however, improving to a virtually spotless 9-0-1 record.

Keeping in stride with its 94.2 percent clip on the penalty kill, Minnesota held Northeastern and Harvard to a combined 2-for-17 on the power play.

The Gophers juggled their lines a bit for Saturday’s game, with freshman Liz Palkie centering freshman Bobbi Ross and sophomore Andrea Nichols.

Ross and Nichols each came away with an assist Saturday.

For now, Halldorson said she was pleased with how the revised lines performed, but the coaches want to review the game tape before making any decisions as to their permanency.

The top line of Wendell, junior Natalie Darwitz and senior Kelly Stephens once again anchored Minnesota’s offense, scoring 18 of the Gophers’ 30 overall points on the weekend.

Saturday’s success against a ranked team should give Minnesota ample confidence going into what Wendell called the “meat of the schedule,” including next weekend’s series against fifth-ranked Wisconsin.

“I think it’s a good start,” Wendell said. “But at the same time, I think we need to be just as prepared to go into Madison, (Wis.), because they also beat Harvard and walked away with two wins.”