DURHAM, N.H.—For 58:52, Harvard matched Minnesota in nearly every respect, clinging to a 3-3 tie with overtime on the horizon. But all it took was one flash of Natalie Darwitz’s stick to break the stalemate and give the Golden Gophers its second NCAA title 4-3 over the Crimson in the Frozen Four final on March 27.
The game-winner, punched through by Frozen Four MVP Darwitz on a mishandled puck by Crimson goalie Ali Boe, ended a roller-coaster season for a Harvard (26-7-3) team that stood near .500 after 2004 and rallied to within a single goal of an NCAA title.
It was an all-too familiar ending for Harvard coach Katey Stone and the Crimson, who have lost the title game in each of the past three seasons, including last year’s 6-2 loss to the Gophers.
“I’m getting tired of this,” Stone said. “But I’m certainly very proud of our kids. We just tried to talk about the really awesome stretch that they’ve had since we lost here on Dec. 11 and we went on a tear. It’s important for them to remember that if they hadn’t answered the call we wouldn’t have even gotten here.”
Stone alluded to the Crimson’s 21-game unbeaten streak (19-0-2), book-ended by losses to UNH and the Gophers on the same ice at the Whittemore Center.
The streak-ending goal came after Kelly Stephens gained control of the puck on the Minnesota (36-2-2) forecheck. She fired a shot on Boe, who was unable to glove it before Darwitz sneaked in for the game-winning tally with just 1:08 left in regulation.
“Kelly Stephens just threw it to the net and I got a pretty nice bounce there right on my stick, and I put it in,” Darwitz said. “I know there was the [defense] out in front of the net and it sort of bounced off some skates out front and came right on my stick.”
The Crimson attempted to mount a comeback in the last minute, but never controlled the puck in the offensive zone to generate a scoring opportunity.
Before Darwitz struck at 18:52, the Crimson had evened the score with a dramatic power-play goal by sophomore defenseman Caitlin Cahow a little less than five minutes earlier.
While Minnesota captain and Kazmaier award-winner Krissy Wendell sat in the penalty box after checking tri-captain Nicole Corriero, Harvard notched its second power-play goal of the evening in five chances on a skidding slapshot by Cahow assisted by Julie Chu and Sarah Vaillancourt.
The game-winner, however, wasn’t the only unlucky puck Boe faced in net.
Though the Crimson dominated on the attack for much of the first period, Minnesota took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission after Wendell poked a shot through junior Ali Boe’s five-hole. As Boe turned to search for the puck as it trickled through her legs, several Minnesota players stormed the net to force it through before Boe could cover up or the referees could blow the whistle.
The second period delivered on the promise of fireworks offered by the pair of loaded offenses, as the two teams traded goals twice, ultimately keeping Minnesota’s narrow one-goal lead intact.
The Crimson shocked the crowd of 2,056 at the Whittemore Center with a stunning tally right out of the gates in the second period.
A mere 46 seconds into the frame, junior Carrie Schroyer played the puck up to sophomore Jennifer Sifers along the right side boards.
Sifers then broke up ice ahead of two Minnesota defenders before unleashing a wrister past Gophers’ goalie Jody Horak into the top right shelf.
But Harvard’s best efforts didn’t faze Minnesota.
“I think our team’s been confident; that’s one of the things that’s carried us,” Wendell said. “We were tied a couple of times in this game. We came back. We battled back. It was a just a matter of time.”
A high-sticking call on defenseman Lindsay Weaver at 6:18, though, opened the door for Minnesota to surge back ahead.
After standing tall against a number of scrums in front of the net, Boe could not snag defender Lyndsay Wall’s slapshot, giving the Gophers its second lead of the night, 2-1, at 7:58.
Harvard evened the score with its own lethal power play just over halfway into the frame.
As Weaver hopped back on the ice from her second penalty of the period, Harvard turned a 4-on-4 situation into a man-advantage.
With a lunging poke-check from Chu, Corriero corralled the puck and slung it to Vaillancourt, who deked inside on her defender and fooled Horak with another crack at the top right shelf at 10:33.
Minnesota managed to take a 3-2 edge into the intermission, however, after defenseman Ashley Albrecht fired slapshot from the point past Boe into the back of the net.
In a game that most experts predicted to be very high-scoring, the initial period contained just one goal on a total of 15 shots.
Special teams, crucial to Harvard’s success all season long, were not a major factor in the first period, as the referees delivered only three power plays—two of those to the Crimson—and largely let these titans settle matters on the ice.
“I think it was a very narrow margin that tipped the scale in their favor today and we were in it all the way and certainly had opportunities to win,” Stone said.
But the loss was a hard one to swallow, considering overtime was within Harvard’s grasp and in many respects the Crimson outplayed the Gophers.
“I had a lot of people telling me it was our day today,” Stone said. “We went toe-to-toe with the best team in the country and there’s a lot to be said for that. I had a feeling that it would go to overtime and see what happens but it didn’t work out that way.”
—Staff writer John R. Hein can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.