MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — In each of the last three seasons, Minnesota came into its first showdown against Minnesota-Duluth undefeated. Each time, the Gophers were handed their first loss. This year, they turned the tables, inflicting a 4-2 defeat on the No. 3 Bulldogs (7-1-1, 7-1-1 WCHA).
The No. 1 Gophers (11-0-0, 11-0-0 WCHA), who had not trailed in their previous ten games, found themselves down 2-0 before the halfway point of the opening period. A different Minnesota team returned to the ice after the intermission and produced a pair of two-goal periods of their own.
In typical fashion, the Gophers’ top line led the way. Each member scored a goal, with Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz adding a pair of assists apiece.
“It was a huge win for us,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “That first period wasn’t our best of the season, but we responded well, and I thought the second period was really the key. We came out strong, got a quick goal and turned the momentum around.”
Darwitz scored the momentum-changing goal 36 seconds into the second frame. Lyndsay Wall jumped on a loose puck at the top of the circle, and Darwitz deflected her drive past UMD goaltender Riitta Schaublin.
“One of our goals, coming out for the second period, was to get shots,” Minnesota co-captain Kelly Stephens said. “We just needed to get on board, keep it simple. So we were just shooting the puck. We thought that would be our best ticket for the following period, after basically not taking any shots and testing the goalie. [Schaublin] is obviously big, so you’ve just got to get the puck to the net and go for the rebounds.”
The Gophers executed that strategy well, attempting 29 shots in the period and getting 20 of them on net.
At the forefront was Wendell, who tallied 10 shots on goal for the game and orchestrated every successful attack from that point.
She set up Bobbi Ross for the equalizer on the power play just over three minutes into the second period and then scored the game winner herself just under three minutes into the third period.
“Natalie threw it out there,” Wendell said of the rush. “I just came in from the top of the circles, and just did what was instinct and went to my backhand.”
“Why change what works,” Stephens added.
Stephens completed the scoring when she cashed in the rebound of yet another Wendell attack.
Early on, UMD was the more effective team. Just over two minutes into the game, senior Nora Tallus picked up a turnover near the faceoff dot and snapped a wrist shot just under the crossbar. Noemie Marin doubled the lead when she snuck a power-play rebound past a sprawled Jody Horak at the 8:08 mark.
“I’m very, very proud of how we played tonight,” said UMD coach Shannon Miller. “I thought we played very, very well for such a young team. I think Minnesota came out and we put them on their heels, early in the first period, and they stayed on their heels pretty much the whole first period. Once they got used to the pressure, and it might be the most pressure they’ve seen this year, then they adjusted.”
Horak, who made 21 saves in celebration of her 22nd birthday, squelched the Bulldog offense from that point, improving to 8-0 on the season.
“I don’t think we helped her out much in the first period,” Wendell said. “She stepped right up, and she came up with huge saves for us. Even though we outscored them in the second and third period, the reason for that was she was stopping pucks that I don’t know how they didn’t go in.”
Once down by two goals, Minnesota-Duluth carried play through much of the latter stages of the third period, but Horak held the line.
“That glove save in the third when Duluth was on the power play, I thought was a key save,” Halldorson said.
When the Bulldogs did get the puck past Horak, her teammates were there to help out. At one point, Stephens got her stick on a puck that was nearly trickling over the goal line.
“Horak, she had the awareness to actually know where the puck was, so she didn’t want to drop down and knock it in,” Stephens said. “I just came behind and tried to not watch it go in my own net, so it was kind of funny.”
Overall, the 2,457 fans in attendance were treated to a good show.
“The Wisconsin series was a good series, and a good test for us,” Miller said. “It certainly wasn’t at this speed. This was probably the fastest game you’re going to see all year, or series, when these two teams meet.”