Women’s hockey sweeps Frozen Four caliber teams

Brett Angel

Midway through the third period of Minnesota’s women’s hockey game against Harvard on Sunday afternoon, Gophers forward Krissy Wendell collided violently with Harvard defender Angela Ruggiero near center ice.

The collision knocked Wendell to the ice with a loud “thwack,” as the 1,716 people at Ridder Arena held their collective breath.

Unfazed, Minnesota’s star freshman got up and skated to the penalty box to serve a charging penalty. Two minutes later, she was back on the ice helping her team to a dramatic 4-3 victory over the third-ranked Crimson.

The play was indicative of the resiliency displayed by the Gophers in their Ivy League sweep of Brown and Harvard over the weekend.

“It was really a great effort in terms of heart and character,” Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson said. “I was very impressed with our team and proud of them for the desire we showed to pull out that game.”

With the two victories, Minnesota extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games.

The Gophers (11-0-1, 7-0-1 WCHA) scored first in Sunday’s game on a short-handed goal from Kelly Stephens, but trailed the Crimson 2-1 after the opening period.

Second-period scores by Wendell and Allie Sanchez gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead entering the second intermission, Ruggiero tied the match at three with just five minutes left in the game.

But as they’ve done all season, the Gophers would answer – this time getting a goal from Natalie Darwitz 1:03 later to give Minnesota the win.

The Gophers won the game despite getting out-shot 35-16. Minnesota goaltender Jody Horak collected 32 saves and improved her record to a perfect 10-0-0 on the season.

Sunday’s contest with the Crimson showcased five former Olympians on the ice.

Wendell and Darwitz skated with Harvard players Ruggerio and Julie Chu on the 2002 U.S. Olympic team, while Crimson center Jennifer Botterill played for Team Canada.

“I’ve been looking forward to this week for a long time,” Darwitz said. “It was definitely weird lining up (against former teammates) with different colors on, but it was fun.”

Both Harvard (3-1-0, 2-0-0 ECAC) and Brown (2-3-1, 1-1-0 ECAC) traveled to the Land of 10,000 Lakes over the weekend to play the Gophers and Minnesota-Duluth one game each in what could be a preview of the 2003 Frozen Four in March.

The latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll has the Bulldogs, Gophers and Crimson ranked 1-2-3, with Brown listed at No. 7.

“I think the world of college hockey was watching Minnesota this weekend to see what would happen when some of the best teams in the country went head-to-head,” Halldorson said.

Minnesota stated its case to be the No. 1 team in the nation after being the only team of the four to win both games.

The Gophers got a hat-trick from Darwitz and defeated Brown 5-3 Saturday before their thrilling win over Harvard on Sunday. The Crimson split their two games after beating Minnesota-Duluth Saturday, while the Bulldogs and Brown finished the weekend with a loss and a tie.

“We’ve now experienced the two best teams in the West,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We’re going to get better and hope that we have an opportunity to see the Gophers again.”

Halldorson isn’t overlooking the possibility.

“I have a lot of respect for Harvard,” Halldorson said. “I told their coach after the game that we might see them later, down the road.”

And next time there could be a national title at stake.