MINNEAPOLIS — With the hype of five Olympians on the ice and the nation’s number-one ranking up for grabs, the excitement level surrounding No. 3 Harvard’s game at No. 2 Minnesota was as high as any women’s college hockey game has seen.
However, the game’s first star turned out to be an unheralded third-line center who scored a go-ahead goal in the second period and set up the game-winner with 4:20 to play as the Gophers (11-0-1 overall) earned a 4-3 win over the Crimson (3-0-1) in front of 1,716 fans Sunday at Ridder Arena.
After two Olympians, Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell and Harvard’s Jennifer Botterill, registered a goal and an assist each to tie the game at 2-2, the Gophers’ Allie Sanchez put her team ahead 4-3 with her third goal of the season just 20 seconds after Minnesota goalie Jody Horak stopped a pair of shots by Botterill from the edge of the crease.
With Harvard putting pressure on the Gophers in an effort to regain the lead, Minnesota was able to clear the zone and move the puck into the Crimson zone, where Winny Brodt’s pass from the left point was right on Sanchez’s stick on the left side of the crease and Harvard goalie Jessica Ruddock was unable to respond in time.
“To get that goal gave us a lot of confidence,” Horak said. “It was a big sigh of relief to get on top.”
The 3-2 lead held up for the Gophers for 19 minutes and, as the game headed into the late stages, they were clinging to that one-goal lead despite being outshot by a 2-to-1 margin.
The Crimson finally tied the game when Julie Chu and Angela Ruggiero broke into the zone 2-on-1. Chu carried the puck across the blue line on the left side before passing the puck to Ruggiero, who blasted a shot from the high slot over Horak’s blocker.
After having given her team a lead earlier, Sanchez picked up her second point of the game when she managed to get the puck to the front of the net while forechecking in the right corner. A scramble ensued and Natalie Darwitz was able to find an opening and scored the game-winner.
“Allie was down in the corner, working her butt off on the forecheck,” Darwitz said in describing the winning goal. “The puck came out and I found an opening and managed to put it in.”
Despite the attention paid to the like of Wendell and Darwitz, both on and off the ice, Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson lauded Sanchez and the role players on her team.
“Every player on our team has a job,” she said. “Everybody is important and everyone contributes. It’s good when some other players get recognition for their contribution.”
The Gophers jumped out to an early lead with a short-handed goal after Krissy Wendell stole the puck at the Harvard blue line and passed the puck to Kelly Stephens who rushing towards the net and tipped the puck past Ruddock.
A pair of goals late in the opening period gave Harvard a 2-1 lead as Botterill scored during a scramble in front of the Minnesota net at 14:52 and Tracy Catlin tipped a Ruggiero shot on the power play, just nine seconds after Stephens was called for roughing.
The Gophers tied the score just 2:04 into the second period when Wendell took a pass from Kristy Oonincx, cut across the top of the crease and tuck the puck around Ruddock, whom she had deked to the ice.
Following a 2-1 win over defending national champion and top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth Saturday afternoon, travel and a lot of ice time may have affected the Crimson’s top players but, according to Botterill, they were ready.
“I think, when you’re in a game like this, the adrenalin carries you a lot,” she said. “We got in early enough that we got plenty of rest before our first game.”
Harvard played like they had enough rest, outshooting Minnesota 13-3 in the opening period and 35-16 for the game. However, Minnesota was able to overcome that in the second period, controlling the play in the middle stanza when the teams were at even strength while managing to successfully kill four Crimson power plays.
With the win, coupled with Harvard’s win over UMD Saturday and the Bulldogs’ 1-1 tie Sunday with Brown, the Gophers are expected to move to the top of the national rankings. However, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for Minnesota as they travel to No. 5 St. Lawrence next weekend.
Harvard will be at home for the first time this season when they host Colgate and Cornell in a pair of ECAC games Friday and Saturday.