Familiar nemesis stands in the way of second-straight title

Chris Lempesis

As Minnesota women’s hockey team’s program has grown, it has passed up some of the older and more established programs in women’s college hockey.

Dartmouth is holding out.

The Green has won six of 12 matchups with the Gophers, and the series between the two has been back and forth since the start.

The next chapter in the story begins today, as the top-ranked and defending national champion Gophers (34-2-2) will meet the fourth-seeded Green (27-6-0) in the national semifinals at 7 p.m. in Durham, N.H.

A win would put the Gophers in the national championship game at 3 p.m Sunday. A loss means the third-place game at 11:30 a.m.

Friday’s game marks the third time the teams have met in the Frozen Four. Minnesota won last year’s semifinal meeting 5-1 on its way to its first NCAA title. Dartmouth won 4-2 in 2003’s third-place game.

“We both go out there and give it everything we have,” sophomore defender Lyndsay Wall said. “I think it just comes (down to) who wants it more and who doesn’t make the mistakes.”

The game also marks the third time the teams have met this season.

And, you guessed it, the series is split.

In fact, the Gophers needed overtime in the second game to salvage the split.

But junior forward Krissy Wendell said that, though the teams are very much alike, Minnesota is in a different and more confident group from

the one that Dartmouth saw in December.

“We trust in our systems a little bit more,” she said. “We’ve learned our systems, freshmen are a little bit more comfortable. We’ve kind of got more set lines; people know their roles a little bit more.”

While the series has been back and forth, one constant is that the games have been high scoring.

Of the 12 meetings, 11 have seen the teams combine to score at least five goals or more.

Friday’s game could be more of the same. Minnesota and Dartmouth have the top two scoring offenses in the NCAA this season, each averaging almost five goals per contest.

Coach Laura Halldorson, for one, said she hopes the game does not turn into a shootout.

“We’ll be focusing on playing solid defense and trying to limit chances,” she said.

This will be a mighty challenge for Minnesota. Dartmouth has a pair of high-scoring lines. One consists of juniors Katie Weatherston, Cherie Piper and Cheryl Muranko (69 goals and 68 assists combined) and the other of juniors Tiffany Hagge, Gillian Apps and senior Meagan Walton (52 and 76).

Of course, the Gophers defense has faced the vaunted top line of juniors Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell and senior Kelly Stephens in practice every day.

And that counts for something.

“When you’ve got Wendell, Darwitz and Stephens coming down at you every single day in practice, it definitely gets you ready for the big games,” Wall said.

And against Dartmouth, the games are almost always big.