For the first 40 minutes of the NCAA championship game, the nation’s top two women’s college hockey teams—No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 Harvard—fought an evenly matched 2-2 contest that had all the markings of an epic battle to the end.
Then the Golden Gophers’ first line—Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Kelly Stephens—decided to take over the game. The three-pronged attack scored four unanswered goals in the final frame of action to put Minnesota (30-4-2, 19-3-2 WCHA) on top 6-2 and send the Crimson (30-4-1, 15-3-0 ECAC) home with a loss in the finals for the second year in a row.
The Golden Gophers’ third period marked a total shift from the game’s first two.
“We talked about ‘this is our chance to reach our goals,’” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “And one of the things we talked about at the beginning of the year was to meet [President] George [Bush]—that was one of our goals. We’ve seen other teams go to the White House and we wanted to go.”
In the final frame of the championship game, Darwitz struck first, starting Harvard’s demise just nine seconds into the third period.
She received a pass from Wendell off the opening faceoff and took the puck along the left side, out-skating Ruggiero to the faceoff circle, where she fired a shot at sophomore Ali Boe.
Darwitz skated in past co-captain Angela Ruggiero and knocked in the rebound past Boe’s right side, but as soon as the officials signaled a goal, Boe and the rest of the Crimson turned in protest and the goal was put under review, to no avail.
Just 32 game seconds after Darwitz’s goal—more than a few minutes had passed due to the officials’ timeout to review the play—Stephens scored by deflecting a Wendell shot taken from the left faceoff circle past Boe’s left.
In the next few minutes immediately following the Gophers’ fourth goal, the Crimson showed signs of life and gave the Harvard faithful reason to believe in a comeback.
Junior Nicole Corriero, despite having at least two Gophers trying to drag her down each time she campaigned toward the net, trudged along and fired shot after shot at Minnesota goalie Jody Horak, finishing with nine shots on goal for the game. Unfortunately, her only goal came in the second period off a Ruggiero set-up, and she wasn’t able to snap the Gophers’ dominance in the final frame.
As the end of the game drew near, Harvard had more and more trouble putting together quality scoring opportunities and holding the puck deep in the Gopher’s defensive zone.
“We put a lot of pressure on them down the stretch of the game—if we had been tired we probably wouldn’t have been able to do that,” Stone said.
The nail in the coffin might very well have come on Wendell’s goal at 6:54—Minnesota’s fifth of the game and fourth unanswered.
“We had smiles on our faces for that third period, and we never let up and enjoyed every minute of it,” Halldorson said.
Darwitz rounded out the period with a hat trick with slightly less than seven minutes left in the game.