Gophers rise to the occasion vs. Beavers

Bemidji State led 2-1 after the first period, but Minnesota recovered to win 6-3.

Chris Lempesis

After 20 minutes of play Thursday, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team found itself in a place it had been in only three previous times all season.

Behind.

The Gophers, trailing Bemidji State 2-1 heading into the second period, picked up their game and scored five unanswered goals on their way to a 6-3 win over the Beavers in the opening round of the WCHA Tournament at Ridder Arena.

“We’re happy to win,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “I don’t necessarily think it was our best performance of the season, but we’re excited to move on to the semifinals.”

Four of Minnesota’s five straight goals came from the heralded top line of senior Kelly Stephens and juniors Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz.

Stephens scored the Gophers’ first two goals of the run.

Both of her goals came in the second period, the first of which was just 40 seconds into the stanza.

After Erica McKenzie scored at the 11:06 mark to make it a 4-2 game, Wendell and Darwitz put the game away with a pair of third-period goals.

In all, the trio accounted for 10 points in the contest.

“They’ve been doing it all season, and they got the job done today when we needed it,” Halldorson said. “They knew what needed to be done after that first period.”

In that first period, Minnesota (31-2-2, 25-1-2 WCHA) looked sluggish and fell behind on two separate occasions.

Bemidji State (9-24-2, 5-22-1) defender Ashley Medori gave her team a 1-0 lead just 1:23 in.

Wendell tied it up with her first tally of the game less than a minute later before Beavers center Kelly Hart beat Gophers goalie Brenda Reinen one on one late in the first to give Bemidji State its last lead of the night.

Minnesota knew going into the locker room that its first period effort would not be enough.

“Everybody came into the locker room and knew that we had to step it up,” Wendell said. “(The first period was) just kind of a little pinch to us.”

And despite the apparent dominance in the second and third periods, the Gophers said they never felt they were in total control of the game.

“I don’t know if we actually ever totally dominated,” Stephens said. “I think we had spurts of times where we did well.”