MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson felt she needed significant contributions from more than just a few players to avenge Saturday’s loss to No. 1 Dartmouth. She got just that.
Four of Minnesota’s goals – including all three in the first period – came from the second and third lines in the No. 2 Gophers’ 7-3 victory over the Big Green Sunday. Dartmouth did not find the net until Minnesota (20-3-1) was ahead 6-0 in the third period.
“I was very pleased with our effort and the way we responded to yesterday’s loss,” Halldorson said. “It was great to see a lot of different people put the puck in the net today. It was just an all-around great team effort.”
The victory made for the seventh 20-win season in the Gophers seven-season history. The loss ended an 11-game unbeaten streak for the Big Green (17-2-2).
“We just come out flat,” said Dartmouth Olympian Cherie Piper. “They were coming at us 100 percent all the time. They came prepared. We weren’t.”
The Gophers were energized by 2,214 fans, the most to attend a women’s college game this season. The crowd was boosted by a promotion that brought in a number of high school teams.
Freshman Andrea Nichols was the first to ignite the crowd with a wraparound shot that beat Dartmouth freshman goaltender Christine Capuano just 3:37 into the game. It was one of two goals for Nichols, and three for her line with La Toya Clarke and Melissa Coulombe.
Co-captain Kelsey Bills scored the lone goal for the third line at 16:34 into the first period. On a set up from Maggie Souba, Bills held the puck near point-blank range with traffic in front of the net. She fooled Capuano out of position and deposited the puck near side.
Dartmouth had given up the first goal and come back to win against No. 10 UNH, No. 3 Harvard, No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota this season, but there was no response Sunday until it was too late.
“I don’t think we came out particularly focused,” said Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak. “We didn’t play a very good game, but I don’t want to take anything away from Minnesota. They played very well.”
Capuano, who had been undefeated against four top 10 teams this season, earned consecutive starts in the same weekend for the first time this season, but she struggled in giving up seven goals on 43 shots.
The backbreaking goal came at the end of the first period, when a Coulombe shot from the point bounced off her chest and slowly up over head and down into the net. That score put Dartmouth down 3-0.
“I think she did a great job yesterday, I think she did a decent job today,” Hudak said of Capuano. “Certainly she got rattled a bit. We didn’t give her a lot of help at times and I think she was trying to do a little too much.”
Even on the first line with U.S. national teamers Krissy Wendell and Kelly Stephens, the contributions were coming from more than just the usual subjects. Freshman Becky Wacker scored both of the first line’s even-strength goals, including the first goal of the second period that made the score 4-0.
She took advantage of a near three-on-none when the first line simply outhustled Dartmouth’s defenders. On a breakaway down the left side, she put the puck into the upper right corner with poise.
Wendell scored a power-play goal to make the score 5-0, and Nichols scored again on a break early in the third period. From there, Piper said her team was just trying to win the third period. The Big Green responded and outscored Minnesota 3-1 the rest of the way.
“You can see a vast improvement from first to period to third period,” Piper said. “I think in the end we did start focusing and playing Dartmouth-style hockey.”
All three goals came from Dartmouth’s top-line players, Piper, Tiffany Hagge and Gillian Apps. The other lines suffered because top scorer Katie Weatherston and tri-captain Meagan Walton were out with the Canadian U-22 team.
The Big Green finally scored at 7:53 of the third period. On the power play, the Gophers let Apps roar in on net from the right side boards and deposit the puck near-side past Minnesota goaltender Jody Horak. Piper scored Dartmouth’s second goal with 2:36 left when she won a clean breakaway from the blue line and beat Horak. Hagge scored the third Dartmouth goal on the power play with one minute left on a one-timer from Apps.
Horak stopped 21 of 24 shots for the day, and all of them when it really counted.
Minnesota controlled possession for most of the first two periods, but Dartmouth did get a handful of good scoring opportunities – most of them from smart play by tri-captain Lydia Wheatley – but she could not finish any of them.
The Big Green were outshot 13-9 in the first period and 16-5 in the second.
“In a game like this, you’ve got to get the puck to the net, and you can’t be pretty at times, in traffic there,” Hudak said. “We just didn’t do it.”
“We just weren’t shooting the puck,” Piper said. “We had chances, we were coming in on one-on-ones, trying to beat people, and get some space in front of the net. That’s our fault for not taking the opportunity to shoot the puck.”
Hudak had no explanation for why the Big Green were not focused. Dartmouth will need to learn how, though, for two tough games in the same weekend, with another challenging pair coming up against No. 5 St. Lawrence.
Minnesota had more experience in that regard entering this weekend, given the format of the WCHA schedule. With two games coming up next weekend against No. 4 Wisconsin, Halldorson felt this win was crucial for Minnesota’s confidence.
Wisconsin moved into a tie for first place in the WCHA with a sweep of No. 7 Minnesota State Saturday, though the Gophers have two games in hand. The series next week at Ridder Arena will go a long way in deciding the WCHA regular-season title.