Gophers finally win first NCAA title

Gophers thwart harvard 6-2 in championship game

Noah Seligman

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – After all the adversity Minnesota’s women’s hockey team faced this season – multiple injuries to key players, two defenders lost and the pressure of playing with a target on its back as the No. 1 team – the NCAA national championship proved to be business as usual for the Gophers.

Minnesota dropped Dartmouth 5-1 in the semifinal, breaking the game open with four third-period goals.

The Gophers followed up by hammering Harvard by a mark of 6-2, again behind the strength of four third-period goals to take home the program’s first national championship.

“It makes the championship very meaningful to know that we have had a lot of ups and downs,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “Through that adversity, we learned how to respond, and that came in handy this weekend.”

So did the forward line of Krissy Wendell, Natalie Darwitz and Kelly Stephens.

As the trio has done since it was united Feb. 20-21 against Ohio State, it carried the load offensively for Minnesota.

Wendell posted a tournament-record eight points in the two wins and was named the Frozen Four’s most outstanding player. Darwitz notched six of her own. Stephens had five points on the weekend.

“They’re good to send over the boards when you need a goal,” Halldorson said. “They’re a great team and they work together well.”

In the championship game, the Crimson and the Gophers were locked at two goals apiece entering the final period.

But nine seconds into the final stanza, Darwitz changed all of that. She gathered the puck after the face-off, sped up the left wing and broke in on net. Her initial shot was stopped, but she put home the rebound to give the Gophers the lead for good.

After an official’s delay to see if the puck crossed the line before a whistle inadvertently blew, the goal was ruled good and the outnumbered Gophers contingent celebrated.

The goal was the fastest in tournament history at the start of a period.

There was no doubt 32 seconds later as Stephens followed up and lit the lamp off a feed from Darwitz to give the Gophers a two-goal cushion.

Wendell added a goal at the 6:54 mark of the period and Darwitz completed her hat trick with just more than seven minutes left in the game.

Darwitz said the third period was all about hustle.

“That’s hard work, and that’s how much we wanted it,” she said.

But despite all the records and honors for the first line, Darwitz was quick to share the spotlight with her teammates.

“Our line did not win this championship, our team did,” Darwitz said. “They’re not getting the credit they deserve. Our goalie made some great stops, and our second and third lines pushed us and worked hard when they were on the ice.”

Freshman forward Andrea Nichols evened the game in the second period off a feed from senior co-captain La Toya Clarke.

Junior goaltender Jody Horak came up with big saves throughout the weekend.

“We got beat by a great hockey team (Sunday),” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We have to take our hats off to them.”

In the semifinal against Dartmouth – which lost 2-1 to St. Lawrence in the consolation game – Minnesota had to fight through a ferocious forecheck by the Big Green. The Gophers struggled to clear the puck from their own zone and found themselves down a goal after the first period.

But Minnesota answered back at 12:11 of the second period to tie the score. In the final period, the Gophers ran away with the game, posting four goals and outshooting Dartmouth 10-2.

“We came out in the third and kicked it up a notch,” Horak said. “We wanted it and played the whole 20 minutes because we had nothing else to save it for.”

Wendell posted her fourth hat trick of the season and second in Frozen Four history to lead the Gophers’ scoring attack.

Stephens chipped in with two goals of her own in the third period to put the game out of reach for Dartmouth.

According to Darwitz, Minnesota’s theme for the weekend pertained to the Gophers coming up short in the past.

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” Darwitz said. “Today is our wedding day.”