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Despite players lost, Gophers still have stars

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team knew it would somehow have to find a way to replace last year’s top three goal scorers: Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Kelly Stephens, all of whom are expected to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Earlier this season, sophomore Bobbi Ross said she believed it would take a team effort to make up for the team’s key personnel losses.

Maybe the fourth-ranked Gophers weren’t looking for a new “Big Three” to shoulder the offensive load, but it seems as though they have found a new lethal scoring trio.

This weekend, Minnesota put out a line that consisted of Ross, sophomore Erica McKenzie and freshman Gigi Marvin.

In total, the three underclassmen racked up 14 points in the two-game set, including McKenzie’s four-goal performance Saturday. Ross assisted all four of McKenzie’s scores.

McKenzie said she and Ross clicked from the onset.

“We were making a lot of passes,” she said, “and kind of know where each other were.”

McKenzie leads the nation with 13 goals (20 points overall), Ross has 10 goals thus far (17 points) and Marvin, last year’s Ms. Hockey award winner in Minnesota, leads all Western Collegiate Hockey Association freshmen in points with 15; three goals and 12 assists.

Although they’ve played only two games together, Ross said she is already comfortable playing with McKenzie and Marvin.

“I’ve played with (McKenzie) before and Gigi’s just such a talented player, I guess you can kind of read her,” Ross said. “And she finds you. They are just both so talented and have been playing so well with each other and have been all year. I’m just glad I didn’t mess it up for them.”

A “fresh’ start

Marvin isn’t the only freshman contributing to Minnesota’s success.

Coach Laura Halldorson said all the first-year players have made some type of impact this season.

“We knew it was going to be a good freshman class,” she said.

Freshman goaltender Brittony Chartier has compiled an 8-3 record with a 2.05 goals-against average.

Sunday, freshman Kim Hanlon started her first career game in net and picked up her first collegiate victory, shutting out Brown 3-0.

Sunday also marked the first collegiate goal of heavily recruited forward Melanie Gagnon.

United they stand

All season long, players and coaches have said one of the team’s biggest strengths this year is team chemistry.

While Halldorson said the team has gelled well off the ice, she said she still wants to see more cohesive play on the ice.

“We have to transfer that camaraderie they have off the ice and sort of transfer it into tangible things they can do on the ice,” she said.

“I think they are getting better. I think the puck support is the biggest thing, and communicating. For some reason, I just don’t think they are used to talking while on the ice.

“But I do think we are getting better. I think they are learning and picking up a lot of the little things we want them to do,” she said.

Wait and see

Recently, Halldorson has been secretive regarding her lineup changes.

Halldorson didn’t disclose her new line alterations prior to the Brown series and was hesitant once again Sunday.

When asked if the Gophers would continue with their new lines or shake things up when third-ranked Wisconsin comes to town this weekend, Halldorson gave a hesitant response.

“I don’t know, we’ll see… I’ll tell you later,” she said.

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