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Crimson Title Hopes Evaporate in Just Under 60 Seconds

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Heading into the third period of the NCAA national championship game with the score knotted at two, the question of whether Harvard’s size and power could match Minnesota’s speed had been answered. Doubts about whether the Crimson’s balanced offensive attack would stack up against the Golden Gophers’ golden line had been laid to rest.

But not for good.

Neither Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell nor Harvard junior Nicole Corriero controlled the frame’s opening faceoff, leaving the puck sitting on the frozen surface while they scuffled for position above.

With the other seven players sitting back as play unfolded, Wendell staved off Corriero’s advance while Natalie Darwitz dashed in to take possession and, with the Crimson skaters slow to react, coasted straight through neutral ice and across the blue line. Harvard co-captain Angela Ruggiero backpedaled to defend along the left side, but the speedy Darwitz slipped behind her and into open space.

Racing in with only Ali Boe standing between her and the red lamp, Darwitz ripped a shot from the circle that stood up—but did not beat—the sophomore netminder. As she, Ruggiero and co-captain Lauren McAuliffe closed in on the goalmouth, all three slackened their pace, as if expecting a stoppage of play and another faceoff.

But despite the lull in the action, Boe did not, in fact, have full possession of the puck, and the attentive Darwitz whacked home the go-ahead goal from just outside the crease as the Crimson pair stood idly by.

Only nine seconds had slipped off the clock, marking the fastest goal in tournament history and giving Minnesota a 3-2 lead.

Believing the officials had blown the play dead moments before Darwitz’s shot crossed the line, Boe skated out to challenge the referee’s ruling, flanked closely by Ruggiero and McAuliffe, who insisted that they too had stopped battling only after hearing a whistle. After an extended official timeout was called for the referee to examine the replay, the goal was confirmed, much to the chagrin of Harvard’s skaters, who had remained on the ice during the entire stoppage of play.

“It was a questionable call on the third goal,” Ruggiero said. “The whistle had blown, but you know what, sometimes the game just goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The ruling was a jarring blow to the Crimson, who had led by a goal just 2:20 earlier.

Then—with 2:11 remaining in the second period—a tally by Andrea Nichols had brought the teams level at two and given the Golden Gophers firm control of the contest’s momentum heading into the intermission. But Harvard had successfully survived a flurry of offensive activity in its own zone in those final two minutes and appeared to have survived the worst Minnesota could muster before heading into the locker room.

Now, disoriented and distracted by the sudden turn of events, the Crimson could no longer hold back the Golden Gophers’ top line.

“We just busted it loose,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson.

Minnesota won the subsequent draw and plowed straight back inside the Harvard zone, setting up shop for its decisive blow. Again, it was U.S. national team members Darwitz and Wendell—who each tallied four points, Darwitz courtesy of three goals and an assist, Wendell the reverse en route to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player—who plagued the Crimson defense.

“When our line gets going,” Darwitz said, “it’s pretty tough to stop.”

Wendell coolly placed the puck on Darwitz’s tape at the left circle, teeing up her shot through traffic. Right in front of the net, fellow American Olympian Kelly Stephens slipped into position next to the post and redirected the shot through the crowd and past Boe’s extended leg for the tally, just 41 seconds into the period.

And so, with just over 19 minutes remaining and the Golden Gophers ahead by two, the question of whether Harvard’s size and power could match Minnesota’s speed had been answered. Doubts about whether the Crimson’s balanced offensive attack would stack up against the Golden Gophers’ golden line had been laid to rest, just like Harvard, and this time, for good.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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