Gophers beat Friars6-1 for fourth-straight Frozen Four berth

Semifinal opponent Dartmouth handed Minnesota one of its two losses this year.

Chris Lempesis

Seasons in sports rarely, if ever, follow scripts.

That being said, the 2004-05 campaign of Minnesota’s women’s hockey team would have to be an exception to the rule, if there ever was one.

A season that began with high hopes continues to move along as planned as the top-ranked Gophers handed eighth-seeded Providence a 6-1 defeat Friday at Ridder Arena in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Defending national champion Minnesota (34-2-2, 25-1-2 WCHA) is now the top seed in its fourth-straight Frozen Four.

The Gophers will face Dartmouth at 4 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal at Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, N.H.

“We had contributions from a lot of different people offensively and defensively,” coach Laura Halldorson said.

A trip out east wasn’t such a sure thing early on for Minnesota on Friday.

Providence (21-11-5) forward Katelynn Laffin banged a rebound past Gophers goaltender Jody Horak on the power play to give the visitors a 1-0 lead 4:42 into the first period.

“We had them right where we wanted them,” Halldorson said jokingly.

But panic didn’t find the Gophers. And, junior Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Krissy Wendell said, there was a reason for this.

“It’s my fifth (NCAA Tournament) game since I’ve been here,” Wendell explained. “I’ve been down 1-0 every time.”

The calmness paid off for Minnesota. It got goals from both an unlikely source, sophomore Becky Wacker, and a familiar one, senior Kelly Stephens, and led 2-1 after one.

The Gophers then owned the final 40 minutes of play.

Stephens, freshman Erica McKenzie and WCHA freshman of the year Bobbi Ross provided the offense with a pair of goals in the third period. But the best example of Minnesota’s dominance came at the other end of the ice.

After allowing nine shots on goal in the first, the Gophers defense held the Friars to a total of six shots on goal in the final two periods.

Laffin said she pointed to Minnesota’s speed as the reason for its strong defensive performance.

Teammate Rush Zimmerman said he agreed.

“When we did get it in deep, they were able to turn it up quickly,” Zimmerman said. “We weren’t able to get a solid forecheck in on them.”

Outside of the one goal, Providence wasn’t able to get much of anything going against the Gophers.

The same can’t be said of Minnesota’s next opponent.

Dartmouth is responsible for one of the Gophers’ two losses this season. The Green downed Minnesota 7-5 on Dec. 11 in Hanover, N.H. The Gophers then beat the Green 4-3 in overtime the next night.

Friday’s game is a rematch of last year’s national semifinals. Minnesota won that game 5-1.

The other semifinal – St. Lawrence vs. Harvard – is also a rematch of last year’s national semifinals.

And the Gophers will need a repeat performance if they are to keep the story of this year headed toward its expected conclusion.

Darwitz breaks record

By assisting on three goals in Friday’s win, junior Kazmaier finalist Natalie Darwitz is now Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer with 237 points.

Darwitz surpassed Nadine Muzerall’s career mark of 235, which had stood since 2001.