Wendell probably won’t be back after 2006 Olympics

Junior Krissy Wendell would leave behind a run at NCAA records with Natalie Darwitz.

Chris Lempesis

Minnesota women’s hockey forward Krissy Wendell is listed as a junior on the roster, but it might as well list her as a senior.

That’s because the 2004-05 season will more than likely be Wendell’s last with the Gophers.

Wendell, the nation’s second-leading scorer (37-50-87), only behind teammate Natalie Darwitz, will finish school by summer’s end. She will then dedicate most of next year to making and playing for the 2006 U.S. Olympic team.

Tryouts for the squad will begin in mid-August, and though she will still have a year of eligibility and could play in 2006-07, Wendell would have to either attend graduate school or pursue another undergraduate degree.

Neither of these possibilities seems likely.

“I would say it’s better I probably won’t return than it is that I’m going to return,” Wendell said.

Coming back after the Olympics would likely pit Wendell against fellow junior and Olympian Darwitz for the NCAA record for points in a career. Harvard senior Nicole Corriero holds the record at 251 points, while Darwitz and Wendell trail with 225 and 220, respectively.

But the 23-year-old Wendell has been preparing for this early departure since the 2002-03 season, her freshman year.

She’s been in school almost constantly since then to finish early and fully dedicate herself to making the 2006 team.

But Wendell already has some experience in missing college ice time because of the Olympics.

She actually graduated from Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn., in 2000 but took two years off to train and play for the 2002 Olympic team, which took the silver medal in Salt Lake City.

Wendell said it hasn’t really hit her that the upcoming playoff run could mark the end of her collegiate career.

The Gophers’ WCHA quarterfinal game with eighth seed Bemidji State takes place at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, and the semifinals and finals follow Saturday and Sunday at Ridder Arena.

Wendell said she’s just trying to enjoy the ride for now.

But Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said she would rather not worry about a future without Wendell at this point.

“I try not to think about that,” Halldorson said. “It’s definitely been a special experience to have her as a part of our program for the last three seasons.”

Halldorson also said she has made it “pretty clear” to Wendell that the door will remain open for her if she chooses to return for a final year.

“I don’t see another player of her caliber on the horizon in the near future,” Halldorson said. “I would be surprised to see one very soon at all.”

Wendell also said that while her time with the Gophers might ultimately be shorter than most, she has no regrets about missed time.

“Honestly, if this is it, I could look back and say that I had an awesome, awesome time here,” she said. “I played with great teammates and got to know a lot of cool people, and I could honestly walk away and say that I had a great experience here at the University.”