Seniors hoping to add to title-laden run

Zach Eisendrath

Soon, the playing days of arguably the most successful collegiate class in Minnesota’s women’s hockey history will come to an end.

The recruiting class, which once consisted of Olympians Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell, is now down to four – senior defenders Chelsey Brodt, Allie Sanchez, Ashley Albrecht and forward Krista Johnson. One-year transfer, senior goalie Natalie Lamme is the fifth member of the class of 2006.

Because the Gophers top three goal scorers are underclassmen – sophomores Erica McKenzie (26 goals) and Bobbi Ross (13) and freshman Gigi Marvin (15) – and co-starting goalies Kim Hanlon and Brittony Chartier are both freshman, the seniors, who have a combined 11 goals on the season, have been overlooked by outsiders.

But not from within the program.

Coach Laura Halldorson said they all will be missed.

“It’s interesting because when they first got here we also had Wendell and Darwitz so it was an incredible group at that time,” Halldorson said.

“It’s still a strong group of players. Three of them are stalwarts back on defense, and I think it’s always a little emotional when you think about it coming to an end. They are all great kids and we will miss them next year.”

Sanchez said defense is sometimes overshadowed. But the senior defenders will be crucial once again this post season.

“Sometimes it always doesn’t get noticed,” Sanchez said of the defense. “But I think we have a good core defense and as long as we concentrate on doing our thing in our zone I think that it will help our team the most.”

On Sunday Minnesota closed out its regular season at home, knocking off Western Collegiate Hockey Association bottom-feeder North Dakota 6-0.

But fortunately for the four-year Gophers – who all started their last regular-season game – senior day won’t be the last time they play on their home ice.

Minnesota hosts Minnesota State this weekend in the first round of the WCHA tournament, and the Gophers hope to be playing in front of their hometown fans into late March when they host the Frozen Four at Mariucci Arena.

“We’re playing well right now,” Sanchez said. “So hopefully we’ll have a ways to go still.”

Brodt, Sanchez, Albrecht and Johnson – members of the back-to-back national championship teams – said that a three-peat is within their reach.

“I think we definitely have the potential to,” Johnson said. “If we just keep playing well and keep playing Minnesota hockey we’ll definitely have a chance to do it again.”

Looking back to four years ago, it was not a hard decision for any of the Minnesota natives to become Gophers.

Sanchez said she is happy just to live out a dream that so many have.

“Everybody that grows up in Minnesota wants to be a Gopher,” she said. “And it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m lucky to get the chance to do it.”

Albrecht said being close to home and surrounded by a great group of teammates and coaches has made her experience flawless.

“There were no negatives,” she said. “Everything about this school just fit me perfectly.”

Having accomplished so much already, but with much they hope to attain in the final month, the seniors acknowledged they have mixed emotions as their careers wind down.

“It’s sad,” Albrecht said. “I just never thought this would be ending, I thought I’d be doing this for 20 years.”

Aside from the two national championship runs, the seniors said it was the little things they remember most.

“Overall,” Johnson said, “when I look back at it, just the people that you meet, the friends that you make and the opportunity to play Division 1 hockey, it’s just been really fun.”

On a team that prides themselves on team chemistry, the seniors have instilled the idea of unity to their younger teammates.

Brodt said she had a simple message to pass on to her teammates:

“We just want to make sure everyone’s having fun,” she said. “It’s just a game.”