U women's hockey team wins first NCAA title

It was just a matter of time, ladies and gentlemen. A matter of time before Krissy Wendell, Natalie Darwitz and coach Laura Halldorson brought home a national title. That time is now.

When University of Minnesota women's hockey coach Laura Halldorson was able to sign Minnesota natives Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell out of high school, women's hockey aficionados were ready to hand a national title to the Gophers. The highly talented duo and United States Olympians were the two greatest hockey players in Minnesota prep history.

But titles aren't won on hype and potential, they are won with hard work, teamwork, and, of course, talent.

And this season, no team had more talent than the Gophers, and that was proved this weekend when the Gophers won their second national title in five seasons, defeating Harvard 6-2 Sunday to claim the national championship at the 2004 NCAA Frozen Four in Providence, R.I.

Wendell led the Golden Gophers (30-4-2) with a goal and three assists, and Darwitz added a hat trick and an assist to lead the Gophers – just like it was planned when the sophomores came to the U a few years ago. Wendell tallied eight points during the national semifinal and championship games. For her performance, Wendell was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament.

Also garnering NCAA All-Tournament honors were Darwitz, Jody Horak, Allie Sanchez and Kelly Stephens. It was the most national all-tournament honors awarded to the Golden Gophers in the school's history. Minnesota defeated Dartmouth 5-1 Saturday to advance to the title game. It was the first NCAA championship for the Gophers, who won the AWCHA national title in 2000. The Crimson, which has appeared in the National Finals in each of the last two seasons, concludes its campaign at 30-4-1.

"I am very proud of the team," head coach Laura Halldorson said. "The game felt a little similar to the Dartmouth game. We picked it up, maybe a little earlier today, but we busted loose and thanks to these two (Wendell and Darwitz) we worked for it and wanted it."

Darwitz downplayed the individual efforts, instead focusing on the team accomplishment. "Our line did not win this championship, our team did," Darwitz said. "They are not getting the credit they deserve. Our goalie made some great stops and our second and third lines pushed us and worked hard when they were on the ice."

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association has now won the national championship five consecutive seasons. Minnesota won in 2000, followed by Minnesota-Duluth in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Harvard jumped out to an early lead, tacking on the first goal of the game at 12:48 of the first period. Crimson's Kat Sweet went top-shelf just after a Harvard power play expired. Although the Gophers outshot the Crimson, 13-7, they were unable to put the puck in the net.

The Gophers, however, put the game back to a 1-1 draw when Darwitz scored at 4:51 of the second period. The Gopher line of Darwitz, Stephens and Wendell combined for an odd-man rush for the top-shelf goal. Wendell passed it to Stephens, who fired it cross ice for the goal. The Crimson scored a power-play goal at 12:21 of the second to regain the lead. Horak was able to stop the initial shot, but was not able to stop the second to allow her second goal of the game, third of the tournament. However, Minnesota tied the game at 17:49 of the second by a goal from freshman forward Andrea Nichols. La Toya Clarke fired a perfect pass to Nichols, who fed it through the slot. The Gophers had 16 shots in the second period alone, while Horak faced 12, stopping 11.

From then on it was all Minnesota, scoring four goals in the third period. The Gophers put Harvard to the test, scoring two goals in the first 32 seconds in the third. Wendell won the third-period opening faceoff and passed it to Darwitz at the blue line. Darwitz fired the shot, found her own rebound and rifled in a shot past Harvard goalie Ali Boe's left shoulder. With only nine seconds off the clock, Darwitz set an NCAA record for the fastest goal coming out of an intermission. The Gophers then cushioned the lead when Stephens scored her third goal of the Frozen Four at 41 seconds of the third. Darwitz and Wendell added the assists.

Minnesota had a record-setting weekend, breaking several NCAA records, three of which involved Wendell. She broke the record for points in the Frozen Four (8) and points in a game (4, set March 26 and 28). Wendell and Darwitz each netted hat tricks, only the second and third players to do so in NCAA history. Darwitz and Stephens also set a record for the fastest consecutive goals at 00:32 in the third period. During the Frozen Four, eight skaters earned a point. Wendell had eight, Darwitz had six, followed by Stephens with five.

Horak provided a stellar performance in the net for the Gophers, stopping 31 shots on goal. Horak's 52 saves, .945 percent save percentage and 1.51 goals against earned her all-tournament honors.

St. Lawrence defeated Dartmouth 2-1 in the third place game.

Minnesota 6, Harvard 2

FIRST PERIOD: Scoring: (H) Kat Sweet/7 (Katie Johnston/11, Caitlin Cahow/11) 12:48; Penalties: (H) Lindsay Weaver, tripping, 4:27; (M) Allie Sanchez, obstruction holding, 10:45; (H) Weaver, high sticking, 13:40

SECOND PERIOD: Scoring: (M) Natalie Darwitz/25 (Kelly Stephens/41, Krissy Wendell/40) 4:51; (H) Nicole Corriero/42 (Angela Ruggiero/30) 12:21 ppg; (M) Andrea Nichols/10 (LaToya Clarke/21) 17:49 Penalties: (M) Kelly Stephens, obstruction interference, 11:17; (M) Sanchez, obstruction interference, 14:26; (H) Weaver, bodychecking, 14:26

THIRD PERIOD: Scoring: (M) Darwitz/26 (Wendell/41) :09; (M) Stephens/22 (Darwitz/37) :41; (M) Wendell/36 (Stephens/23) 6:54; (M) Darwitz/27 (Ashley Albrecht/18) 12:59; Penalties: (M) Melissa Colombe, tripping, 1:56; (H) Julie Chu, hooking, 7:44; (M) Wendell, tripping, 10:11; Goaltending: Ali Boe, Harvard, 60:00, 35 saves, 6 GA; Jody Horak UM, 60:00, 27 saves, 2 GA. Shots : Harvard 7-12-10--29; Minnesota 13-16-11--40. Penalties: Harvard 4 for 8 minutes; Minnesota 5 for 10 minutes. Power Plays : Harvard 1/4; Minnesota 0/3.

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