Clarke posts solid tourney numbers for Gophers

Brett Angel

IGRAND FORKS, N.D. – it’s hard to find the silver lining when you’ve just surrendered your title as the reigning WCHA tournament champion to your archrival.

But that’s exactly the task Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson is faced with after losing to Minnesota-Duluth for the fourth time this season – the latest defeat coming Saturday in the championship game of the conference tournament.

Until last weekend, the tournament championship was the lone bragging right the Gophers held over the two-time defending national-champion Bulldogs.

But with a possible rematch looming on the horizon and a shot at the national championship at stake, Halldorson must now find a way to convince her players they can in fact dethrone Minnesota-Duluth.

Pointing out the recent play of junior La Toya Clarke would be a good place to start.

Clarke was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing weekend for the Gophers.

After scoring two goals in Minnesota’s regular-season finale against Wisconsin a week ago, Clarke added three more points in two tournament games, all coming in crucial situations.

With Friday’s semifinal game against the Badgers tied 1-1, and a possible bid to the national tournament in the balance, Clarke set up Winny Brodt’s go-ahead score just 31 seconds into the third period.

Clarke followed with a steal and shorthanded goal of her own five minutes later to give Minnesota a victory and, essentially, secure a spot for the Gophers in the Frozen Four.

“That shorthanded goal was huge,” Clarke said after Friday’s game. “To tell you the truth I had no idea it went in.”

It’s fitting, because Clarke has been unconscious the past two weekends – notching four goals and an assist in some of the biggest games of the season.

She added a power-play goal in the third period Saturday, sparking a Minnesota comeback that

eventually fell short in a 5-3 defeat to Minnesota-Duluth.

“I’m getting the opportunities and just making sure I take advantage of them,” Clarke said.

Clarke, along with Brodt, was named to the all-tournament first team for her efforts.

But just as she’s done all season, Clarke made it known that her top priority is her team’s success, not individual accomplishments.

“It’s nice to get an award like that,” Clarke said in a somber tone after Saturday’s loss. “But it’s really no consolation after losing a game like this.”

Four named All-WCHA

Minnesota’s Ronda Curtin, Jody Horak and Natalie Darwitz were named All-WCHA First Team selections Thursday night in Grand Forks, N.D.

Curtin, a senior, was named the conference’s defensive player of the year for the second time in a row. She has the third-most points of any defender in the WCHA (34) and anchors a defense that has allowed an average of just 1.71 goals per game in conference play this year.

Horak, a sophomore, owned the best goals-against average of any goalie in the country (1.65) and has lost just four times in 26 decisions this season. She was also a First Team All-WCHA selection as a freshman.

Darwitz, a former Olympian who led the team in goals (30) and points (64) was also named WCHA rookie of the year.

Krissy Wendell was selected for a spot on both the Second Team All-WCHA and All-Rookie Team. Wendell scored 28 goals and 53 points in 23 games for the Gophers this year before fracturing her collarbone Feb. 8.

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