PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In the end, Harvard coach Katey Stone came to the same conclusion as everyone else who had played Minnesota since the line of U.S. Olympians Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Kelly Stephens was reunited — they’re good, very good.
The Gopher top line tallied four goals in the third period, including two in the first 41 seconds, to turn a 2-2 deadlock into a 6-2 championship win. Minnesota (30-4-2) won its first NCAA title — in addition to its 2000 AWCHA national championship — while Harvard (30-4-1) fell in the NCAA final for the second straight year. The national title was the fifth straight for the WCHA in its five-year history. Wendell was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Harvard gained leads of 1-0 in the first period and 2-1 in the second period, making this the seventh of seven national championship games in which both teams had held the lead at some point.
“It’s not that you don’t wish you could come away with a little more, but you can live with it a little bit better if you know you got beat by a great hockey team,” Stone said.
Darwitz scored the game winner just nine seconds into the third period when she put in her own rebound after Wendell gave her the puck off the faceoff. The goal was reviewed because of a quick whistle, but the ruling was the puck had crossed the line beforehand. Just 32 seconds later, Stephens gained a step at the crease and Darwitz found her for the finish.
“The great thing about our line is any given night, me, Kelly and Krissy can all put the puck in the net and intertwine roles,” Darwitz said. “When our line gets going, it’s pretty tough to stop.”
Wendell added a back-breaking goal at 6:54 of the third period and Darwitz scored at 12:59 to ice the game. The Gophers had scored on just 2-of-29 shots over the first two periods, but they refocused on their goals at the intermission.
“We just talked about how this was our chance to reach our goals,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the year was to meet George. We’ve seen other teams go to the White House and we wanted to go.”
Darwitz said it was the first time she had ever had the opportunity to throw her gloves in the air at the end of the season.
While the Gopher top line made the difference in the end, Darwitz and Halldorson were quick to honor their second and third lines and young defense for getting the job done. It was the second line who scored at 17:49 of the second period to tie the game 2-2 when Andrea Nichols buried a pass across from co-captain La Toya Clarke into the opposite side.
It was the Gophers’ second straight come-from-behind victory. Halldorson attributed the team’s resiliency to the adversity it went through beforehand, such as a mid-season injury to Darwitz and the loss of two freshmen defensemen for the season.
“Through the adversity we learned not to be distracted and to keep moving towards our goals,” Halldorson said. “That came in handy this weekend.”
In defeat, Harvard gave up more goals than in its previous eight games combined. Harvard had not allowed more than a goal in a game since February.
“Sometimes when you go up against a fast team you look like you’re running around a bit,” Stone said. “We didn’t make it easy on ourselves when we didn’t put the puck in deep. Every once in a while we got caught watching instead of participating.”
Stone credited goaltender Ali Boe for keeping Harvard in the game for the first two periods. She stopped 27 shots. Jody Horak stopped 31 of 33 on the other end for the Gophers.
Kat Sweet and Harvard’s No. 2 power-play unit struck first at 12:48 of the first period. Just after the power play expired, freshman defenseman Caitlin Cahow fed Sweet in front for a deflection into the upper right corner. It was the second straight game that Cahow had assisted on a deflection.
Minnesota tied it up at 4:51 of the second period, when the Crimson surrendered a 3-on-1 to the Gophers’ top line. Wendell took the puck into the zone and passed off to Stephens, who fed Darwitz in front for the easy finish.
Harvard took the lead once again at 12:21, courtesy of a power play earned by the third line. The gritty effort by Harvard to keep the puck in zone led to Nicole Corriero putting in the rebound off an Angela Ruggiero shot for the 2-1 Crimson lead.
It was the second straight championship game in which Harvard’s final lead came on a Corriero goal.
Minnesota nearly had a power play of its own shortly after the Crimson goal, but on the delayed penalty, Harvard co-captain Lauren McAuliffe worked hard to draw an obstruction penalty. Shortly thereafter, Corriero was taken down on a 1-on-3 to draw another Harvard penalty, but the Crimson could not convert on the power play.
Stone maintained the game could have gone another way on another day.
“Today they were good, they were really good today,” Stone said. “Maybe we play tomorrow, I like our chances tomorrow. We did a lot of great things.”
The defeat marks the end of the career of three Harvard seniors, McAuliffe, Ruggiero and Mina Pell. Their leadership helped get the team right back to the same position as a year ago, despite coming off the graduation of its most talented class in school history.
“The thing that is hard about today is that win or lose players end their college hockey career today; I won’t get to see these two in practice any more,” said Stone, referring to captains McAuliffe and Ruggiero who were with her at the postgame press conference. “I’m going to miss their character the most, that is the hardest for me, and knowing that they will never have the opportunity to wear a Harvard sweater again.”
Four Minnesota seniors — Jerilyn Glenn, Clarke, Kelsey Bills, and Melissa Coulombe — will graduate having won the championship they dreamed about her their entire careers. In the end, their team just got it done, like they always said this season.