Gophers only hoping for more next season

A first NCAA banner about to be hung, the Gophers wouldn’t mind another.

by Noah Seligman

After practices during the regular season, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team would gather at center ice and chant “banner” in unison – the inference being that the Gophers wanted to redecorate Ridder Arena with a national championship banner.

After completing a season hat trick by winning the WCHA regular season title, the WCHA Final Five tournament title and the Frozen Four, Minnesota will have some new additions to the rafters.

“We’ve had a good team for a lot of years,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “It’s very rewarding to go in as the top seed and be able to finish it off in style with an NCAA Championship.”

Prior to 2004, the Gophers were 0-3-1 at the Frozen Four. Now Minnesota collected its first two wins and first NCAA national championship in program history.

The Gophers’ title keeps the women’s hockey national championship within state borders for the fifth straight year.

Minnesota-Duluth had a string of three consecutive championships before this year. Minnesota won the 2000 AWCA national championship, she said.

“It’s setting a tradition and building a dynasty,” junior forward Noelle Sutton said. “Hockey in Minnesota is something special. It’s laying a foundation for people to come in the future.”

What excites Halldorson is that anybody who has been a part of the Minnesota program for four years has won a national championship.

Minnesota now has a month off before spring training begins.

Sophomore defender Allie Sanchez said she wanted to enjoy the moment and that the championship had not sunk in for her yet.

“I don’t know what it was about this team,” Sanchez said Monday. “This year every time something came up we got past it, got a little bit stronger and came together more.”

Minnesota will lose four senior leaders from this year’s squad but will return 85 percent of its point production from this season.

The top line of Krissy Wendell, Natalie Darwitz and Kelly Stephens will be back next season.

Wendell led the line with a program-record 78 points this season.

The trio were the top three scorers for Minnesota this season and accounted for more than half the team’s points.

The line had 11 of the Gophers’ 14 points in the championship game win and 19 of Minnesota’s 24 points total in the Frozen Four.

At the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., a sign on the Zamboni read: 2005 Women’s Hockey Tournament at UNH.

The Gophers got permission to take it with them back to Minneapolis. The placard will serve as a reminder of work yet to be done next season for the Gophers.

“We will return a lot of talented players and will bring in a group of great freshmen,” Halldorson said. “Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going, learn some things from this year and carry that momentum into next season.”

Nobody was making predictions about a repeat after Minnesota returned from Providence, but the Gophers certainly feel confident about their team heading into next season.

“We’ll see,” Sanchez said. “It’s in our reach if we want it like we did this year.”