For second-straight season, women’s hockey winless in Frozen Four

Brett Angel

FDULUTH, Minn. For Ronda Curtin and Winny Brodt, this wasn’t the way things were supposed to end.

Heading into the NCAA Frozen Four over the weekend at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, the only thing missing from the storied careers of Minnesota’s senior captains was the fairy tale ending.

The Gophers hoped that ending would come in the form of their first NCAA championship. As it turned out, they didn’t even get the chance.

Minnesota was schooled by No. 2 seeded Harvard 6-1 in the semifinals of the national tournament Friday night, then lost 4-2 to fourth-seeded Dartmouth in Sunday’s third-place game. The losses ended the Gophers’ title run as well as any hopes of a storybook ending for Brodt and Curtin.

The two losses also kept Minnesota winless in four games at the national tournament since the NCAA began sponsoring the event two years ago. The Gophers finished last year’s tournament with a loss and a tie and failed to qualify in 2001.

Minnesota never appeared to get into a rhythm all weekend and struggled to find its groove, despite getting forward Krissy Wendell back from injury.

“There just wasn’t a lot of flow,” said forward Natalie Darwitz, who scored the only Minnesota goal in Friday’s contest. “Every time we got it deep, they’d force a turnover and come back with a three-on-two or a two-on-one.”

Added Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson: “I can’t explain it. The effort was there. I don’t think mentally we ever gave up.”

Minnesota failed to score on three power-play opportunities in the opening 16:24 of its game against Harvard, then watched the Crimson net two goals in 23 seconds late in the period to snatch a 2-0 advantage.

Harvard denied the Gophers any more power-play chances the rest of game, while creating numerous odd-man rushes against Minnesota’s defense.

“I kept thinking if we pop one in it’s going to change everything,” Halldorson said. “But the longer the game went on, things just weren’t going our way.”

Despite playing in Minnesota, Harvard fans could be heard cheering throughout the game and at one point chanted, “Our Olympians are better than yours.”

On this day, they were right.

Julie Chu and Angela Ruggiero, both teammates of Minnesota’s Darwitz and Wendell on the U.S. Olympic team a year ago, scored two goals apiece for the Crimson. Harvard lost to Minnesota-Duluth in Sunday’s national championship game 4-3 in double overtime.

The Gophers narrowly avoided being shutout for the first time in 42 games Friday when Darwitz scored midway through the third period after crashing head first into the goal. Officials initially waved the goal off, but changed the call after replays confirmed the puck crossed the goal line moments before the net was knocked off its mark.

“Today didn’t go the way we wanted,” Curtin said Friday. “But you learn the most from losing and we’ll see how our team responds.”

The Gophers didn’t learn enough to prevent finishing the season on a three-game losing streak – their longest this year.

On Sunday, Dartmouth earned its first NCAA Frozen Four victory at Minnesota’s expense. The Gophers allowed the Big Green to score three times in 90 seconds in the first period and fell behind 4-0 before getting goals from Wendell and Darwitz late in the game.

Curtin and Brodt both had great scoring chances from close range in the game, but failed to convert against Dartmouth goalie Amy Ferguson. She finished with 27 saves in the game.

“There was a vendetta between myself and (the state of) Minnesota,” Ferguson said. “It was a personal thing to try and shut down their big guns.”

Sunday was the first time Dartmouth had ever beaten either the Gophers or Bulldogs in the state of Minnesota.

For the Gophers (27-8-1), it was another disappointing finish to a promising season.

“No one comes into a national championship tournament planning to lose two games,” Halldorson said. “But somebody has to.”

As Minnesota captains, Curtin and Brodt (along with junior Kelsey Bills) accepted the fourth-place trophy on their team’s behalf before skating off the ice side by side for the last time as Gophers.

“It’s tough when you’re a senior and your career comes to a screeching halt,” Halldorson said. “It’s going to be hard to replace these two. They’ve meant a lot to the program. They’ve meant a lot to the state of Minnesota.”

Halldorson and the Gophers just wish they could have seen the run end with a national title rather than in disappointment.

Maybe next year.

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]