Gophers aim to ‘Get it done’ again

Bridget Haeg

Players might have graduated and shifts might have changed, but one aspect of the 2004 national champion Minnesota women’s hockey team will remain the same: its motto.

“Why change things that worked?” senior captain Kelly Stephens said.

The Gophers, preseason-ranked first by U.S. College Hockey Online, commence their season Friday against WCHA-newcomer North Dakota to the tune of “Get it done” – a slogan that propelled them to a 30-4-2 overall record and a national championship last year.

Expectations are that it will propel them to the same result this season.

“I love it because it’s straight to the point (and) it’s something that I could have had for the whole four years I was here,” Stephens said.

This year, the quest for the national title will get a little tougher as the WCHA Tournament expands to include all eight member teams, and the NCAA changes its tournament from four to eight teams.

Junior captain Krissy Wendell said she views this as somewhat of an advantage.

“Our team plays its best when they know the other team is gunning for them,” Wendell said.

“We have to bring our best game every night.”

Though almost all agree they have the talent to do that, team members said, translating talent to titles has been tough in the past.

“It happened to us a couple years ago, where on paper we were pretty strong, but we didn’t put it all together,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “What we need to do is take advantage of the talent that we have.”

Last season is a good example of how to do that, as numerous records fell on the way to team glory.

Wendell, a 2002 Olympian and 2003-2004 first team All-American, comes off a record-setting season in which she passed Nadine Muzerall for the Minnesota single-season scoring mark with 78 points.

Stephens earned her place in the record books last season too. Her plus/minus rating of plus-57 set a Gophers record, and she scored a career-high 64 points.

The team also returns a key member of last season’s top-ranked power-play unit in junior forward Natalie Darwitz. Stephens’ and Wendell’s linemate and a 2002 Olympian, she scored 64 points in 26 games last year.

The defense, barring position changes, returns three duos of experienced players.

Junior Ashley Albrecht joined Darwitz on that top-ranked power-play unit last year, and sophomore Lyndsay Wall – yet another Olympian – scored six goals with 15 assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus-15 before being declared academically ineligible for the spring semester.

Senior goaltender Jody Horak will begin her final season with a solid track record. She posted a 22-4-2 record last season with 1.63 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.

Despite all the returning regulars, those without college hockey experience might be playing bigger roles than one might think.

Because the team has five 2006 Olympic hopefuls, the freshman class will need to be ready to take over the team when they leave.

“They are going to be playing, they are going to be put on the ice and we want them to progress from the beginning (to the end) of their freshman year,” Halldorson said.

Freshman forward Erica McKenzie, who was honored as the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year the last two years and Ms. Hockey last year, said she won’t shy away from jumping on the ice with the best in college hockey.

After all, they have something she wants.

“It’s not like I have that ring on my finger,” McKenzie

said. “It’s awesome that they’ve already done it, but it’s even cooler that they have a chance to repeat.”