HANOVER, N.H. — A lot of teams wouldn’t be attacking the net shorthanded in the final minute of overtime. But in the words of Minnesota co-captain Kelly Stephens, the No. 1 Gophers were playing to win, not to avoid losing, and it paid off in a 4-3 overtime win over No. 2 Dartmouth on Sunday.
One day after suffering their first loss of the season to Dartmouth (11-1-0), the Gophers (15-1-2) returned the favor. Junior Natalie Darwitz led the way in regulation with two goals and an assist, and Stephens delivered the overtime game-winner in front of 1,316 at Thompson Arena.
In the climactic moment of the draining two-game weekend series, Gopher defenseman Ashley Albrecht aggressively won the puck in the Dartmouth corner as Stephens rushed the net. Dartmouth’s power play unit could not keep up as Stephens deflected Albrecht’s pass top shelf.
“It was just an awesome pass, all I had to do was put my stick on it,” Stephens said. “[Albrecht] deserves allvthe attention she’s going to get. She’s a good player, and it was a great heads-up play.”
Much like Dartmouth junior Katie Weatherston’s shorthanded scoring rush yesterday, Albrecht’s effort was of her own initiative.
“I was joking, ‘Was that our special shorthanded defenseman rush play?’” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “Albrecht was in the corner, we’re shorthanded and I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. But she read the play, and it worked out pretty well for us.”
The Stephens goal spoiled a gritty Dartmouth effort to come back from deficits on two occasions against the Gophers.
“We showed a ton of character this weekend coming back from deficits,” said Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak. “One thing we did learn is we can play back-to-back two days in a row. We aren’t a one game team. We had guts and determination and character over both days.”
Down 2-1 entering the third period, Dartmouth sophomore goalie Kate Lane made several outstanding saves to keep her team in the game. The best of her 27 saves came when Erica McKenzie fed Krissy Wendell for a one-timer at the crease, and Lane faced up to her left and blocked the shot earmarked for the top corner. The stop maintained Wendell’s streak of four games without a goal.
Weatherston tied the game 2-2 with her fourth goal of the series at 7:33 of the third period. Co-captain Alana BreMiller led the breakout to Carrie Thompson who had the initial shot. Weatherston buried the long rebound in the far top corner.
Natalie Darwitz put the Gophers back ahead 3-2 at the 12:15 mark. Coming down the left side, she got a step on a defender and fired an off-balance shot into the top right corner from the edge of the crease.
Dartmouth answered again at 17:27 on the power play when a Cherie Piper shot led to a long rebound, which Cheryl Muranko fired off the back goal support. There was initially controversy because the referee had signaled no goal and blown the play dead while the puck was loose, but the officiating team eventually got the call right.
Dartmouth finished 2-for-7 on the power play, a far cry from yesterday’s 4-for-6 success. The Big Green’s biggest lapses came when trying to set up the 4-on-3, an area that Hudak targeted for improvement.
Minnesota reverted to a more effective defensive game plan today by going aggressive all over the ice. In yesterday’s defeat, the Gophers were more passive up top.
“Our forte is our is speed, so we decided to go to aggressive,” Stephens said. “We had seven goals against yesterday, so we had to do something differently.”
The Gophers’ biggest problem on the penalty kill was taking more penalties. Of Dartmouth’s six power play goals this weekend, four came on the first or second penalty of a 5-on-3.
That includes Sunday’s first goal at 15:23 of the first period, when Piper buried the puck in the top right corner on the 5-on-3, during which she had all the time in the world to pick her spot from the slot.
Piper’s goal was the lone score of the first period, a far cry from Saturday’s 3-3 first period.
“The pace of the game today was a little slower than yesterday, I think both teams were a little tired, but that’s hockey, and it’s good hockey,” Hudak said.
Minnesota and Dartmouth at a slower pace was still far faster than most other women’s college hockey games, as the Gophers showed when they picked up their pace at moments in the second period. They scored twice to gain the 2-1 lead.
Ross scored the first goal at 5:36 when she gathered a rebound off a Stephens shot, walked up the end line and beat Lane with a tough-angle shot.
The Gophers went ahead for the first time at 16:05 on one of their typical goals in transition. Wendell came down on the rush and cut in on Lane. Albrecht got the first swipe at the rebound before Darwitz hit the second swipe home.
When asked whether Minnesota would maintain the No. 1 ranking in the polls, Stephens said, “I think we stay there.” Hudak concurred with that prediction.
“That’s fine with me,” said Hudak, who stressed that what Dartmouth learned from today was more important than the result. “Let them be No. 1. I’d rather be chasing than being chased.”
Both teams now enter a welcome break for the holidays.
“We’re a little road weary, we have exams coming up and we’re not 100 percent healthy,” Halldorson said. “Those are things going on that you don’t talk about when you have games to play, but now that it’s over, it’s a big win, and we can rest.”