McKenzie, Nichols and Ross team up to supply more than relief for top line

The Gophers’ newest second line combines the best of the team’s underclassmen.

Chris Lempesis

It’s hard to imagine that Minnesota’s women’s hockey team, which is ranked first in the country with a record of 25-1-2, would be searching for much at this point in the season.

But some injuries and a wealth of underclassmen have forced the Gophers to spend most of 2004-05 looking for a solid second line to go behind the vaunted top line of juniors Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz, and senior Kelly Stephens.

Minnesota has tried many different lineups throughout the season, and the team might have finally found what it’s looking for in the combination of freshmen Erica McKenzie and Bobbi Ross, and sophomore Andrea Nichols.

The three have performed well throughout the season on their own and are now being given a chance to excel as a group.

So far, it’s working.

The trio played together early in the season against Ohio State and was brought back together for the series with St. Cloud State on Friday and Saturday.

They combined for two goals and an assist and created many other scoring opportunities during the weekend sweep.

“It’s working out well,” McKenzie said. “We’re getting points up on the board, which we kind of need to help out the first line.”

All three have been able to put points up throughout the season.

Ross leads the group with nine goals and 12 assists, McKenzie has nine goals and seven assists, and Nichols has eight goals and seven assists.

“I think our line is a pretty good combination,” Nichols said. “Each one of us brings something different to the table.”

The fact that each player has her own specialty makes the line especially likely to succeed.

Nichols’ quickness, McKenzie’s hands and Ross’ overall toughness make it hard to focus on just one aspect of the line.

“They are all a little bit different,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “Just like the Wendell (line), those differences make them better as a group.”

While their styles of play differ, personalitywise, the three said they have a solid chemistry with one another.

“We talk openly with each other after every shift, and we get along really well,” Ross said.

McKenzie said the good chemistry allows the players to point out aspects of their respective games that might need to be worked on.

They will get another chance this weekend to improve on that chemistry, as Halldorson said the group will be together against North Dakota.

“I want to see how this weekend goes,” Halldorson said.

“I think we’re getting close to what we want our lineup to be heading into the last part of the season.”

As the postseason draws near, this line hopes to leave the Gophers with nothing left to find.