PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Minnesota and Dartmouth entered the first semifinal of the Frozen Four with similar histories.
Both appeared in two previous NCAA Frozen Fours. Both lost in the semifinals. Both won one of their two consolation games. This season, they played each other twice, each winning a game.
Friday, one team had to get the advantage.
That turned out to be Minnesota, which will get the opportunity to play for college hockey’s Holy Grail after defeated Dartmouth, 5-1, thanks to a hat trick by leading scorer, Krissy Wendell, including the game winner in a third period that saw a tight game open up.
“It was a close game for a long, long time,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “We kept focused and finally figured out a way to score on their goalie.”
That goalie was Kate Lane, who got the start among a rotation of three netminders, and kept her team in the game through two periods before fatigue gave in to the speed of the Gophers.
Dartmouth figured out the opposing goalie first, at the 12:08 mark of the opening period. Krista Dornfried, from the right corner, fed Meredith Batcheller in the high slot. Batcheller fired a shot which Dornfried deflected from in front.
The change of direction gave Minnesota netminder Jody Horak trouble. She got a piece of it, but the puck trickled by her Even then, it seemed like an eternity as the puck drifted towards the net, stopping only when it crossed the goal line.
“It went behind me,” Horak said. “I didn’t even know it went in.”
“I had a line today with two freshmen,” Dornfried said. “They were nervous coming into the game in their first NCAA championship game. They all worked hard. They shot it in, and I just put it in.”
Minnesota had plenty of chances in the first period, including a number of breakaways. Early on, La Toya Clarke raced down the left side, letting go a shot that Lane stopped. Midway through the period, Andrea Nichols blew by the defense, going in alone. She failed to get off a dangerous shot and then crashed the net. Lane, unfazed, never let the puck in.
In the waning minutes of the period, Natalie Darwitz had two breakaways, the latter with seconds left. On the first, she made a nice move to her backhand, but lost the opportunity when she fanned on the shot. The second time, she shot it over the net.
Despite being down by a goal, Minnesota was not concerned. “The atmosphere in the locker room was very positive,” Wendell said.
Both teams stepped the pressure up in the second period. An early power play for Minnesota almost gave it the tying goal, but Lane stopped a deflection in front. Later, Lane stopped Andrea Nichols on a hard shot as well.
Dartmouth came close to the all-important two-goal lead on a scramble in front of the net. Despite numerous swipes at the puck, Horak wound up covering it.
The Gophers finally tied the game at 12:11. A Dartmouth shot from the blueline was blocked by a defender, and the rebound went to Darwitz, who looked up and saw Wendell breaking down the middle. The feed was perfect. Faking the forehand, Wendell went to her backhand to beat Lane.
Dartmouth’s strategy to stop Minnesota’s speed worked for the first two periods.
“We put in a different forecheck,” Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak said. “Kind of like a 2-3. We call it a power forecheck. We try to put a lot of pressure on their defensemen. We run that for the first two lines. For the third line, we run a 1-2-2. We thought if we could throw a couple of different looks it would confuse them. It seemed to be working for a while.”
Then came the third period, when Minnesota finally figured out Lane — though Darwitz joked she was unable to.
“I gave it to Krissy and Kelly and let those guys take care of it,” she said. “I couldn’t figure it out.”
Wendell got the game winner at 7:29 with a one-time backhander off a feed from behind from Darwitz. Five and a half minutes later, their other linemate, Kelly Stephens, scored on a breakaway. She wristed it over Lane’s left shoulder. Chelsey Brodt and Allie Sanchez got the assists.
Just over two minutes later, Wendell completed her hat trick on an unassisted goal. Wendell skated the puck down the right side, cut in front of the net, and fired a shot past Lane.
“I think we got a little tired,” Hudak said.
Wendell then played feeder, passing from behind the net to a wide-open Stephens, who one-timed it for her second on the night.
“I was pretty happy with what we did the first two periods,” Hudak said. “That’s a tough line to contain for three periods.”
That top Gopher line scored all five goals, with Wendell accumulating four points.
Dartmouth goes to 24-7-2 and will play in Sunday’s consolation game.
Minnesota, with its 29-4-2 record, goes for that elusive NCAA championship Sunday afternoon at 4, against the winner of the Harvard-St. Lawrence game.
“I’m just excited we’re playing in the championship game,” said Wendell of her contributions.