DURHAM, N.H. — Thirteen seconds. That’s the time it took forward Natalie Darwitz and her Minnesota team to take control on Friday night.
Just thirteen seconds into the first period, Darwitz took a pass from linemate Kelly Stephens and roofed a shot over a sliding Dartmouth goalie Kate Lane for a decisive opening salvo. Darwitz’s goal, the fastest ever to start an NCAA women’s tournament game, was followed by two within the first five minutes leading to a dominanting 7-2 victory for the Gophers (35-2-2).
“The start was key, coming out of the blocks like we did,” said Minnesota coach Laura Hallodorson. “I thought we played a good game. A strong start is one of the things we focus on all season and our team was ready to go. It showed early in that first period.”
Darwitz netted her second goal two minutes later and added three assists by the end of the night. The five points put her at 110 for the season, threatening the all-time women’s D-I record of 114, set by Harvard’s A.J. Mleczko in 1999. Fittingly, Darwitz will attempt to break the record in Sunday’s championship game against Harvard.
The ever-reliable first line for Minnesota, made up of Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Kelly Stephens, accounted for five goals and seven assists.
Dartmouth, which entered the game ranked second nationally in team offense behind only Minnesota, scored twice in the opening period on seven shots. But Minnesota tightened up and allowed just three shots in the second period and none in the third period. The 10 total shots were a season-low for Dartmouth (27-7-0). In contrast, the Gophers needed just 10 shots to score their first five goals.
“I’m amazed at that, with the firepower they have,” said Halldorson. “We played well with the puck and without the puck, and did a nice job shutting them down.”
“I don’t think we played poorly,” said Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak. “I wished we’d played better. Minnesota’s a very, very good team. They’ve got some great players that hurt us very early in the game, and trying to play catchup with a team like that is pretty near impossible.”
Goals for Dartmouth came from junior forward Cherie Piper, the team’s leading scorer, and Gillian Apps.
The game’s first period held the majority of the night’s offensive fireworks. Of the nine goals scored, seven came in the first, and Minnesota had built up a nearly insurmountable 5-1 lead after just 13 minutes.
On Darwitz’s second goal, she stole the puck from Dartmouth forward Katie Weatherston, skated around a defender, and slid the puck under Lane (17 saves).
Darwitz didn’t get the third goal for the hat trick, but she still did most of the work on the third Minnesota strike. From the corner, she sent a cross ice pass through the crease and right onto the stick of Wendell, who stuffed the puck short side for the three goal cushion.
Gillian Apps got the Big Green on the scoreboard next with a strange goal. After Minnesota goalie Jody Horak (8 saves) knocked the initial Apps shot up into the air, she lost track of it as it flittered over her head and landed in the net for the score. At this point in the game, four of the first nine shots for the two teams combined had been converted for goals.
Just over a minute later, with Weatherston serving a penalty for a nasty cross check to Darwitz, the Gophers’ top power play unit cycled the puck around the goal and onto the stick of defenseman Lyndsay Wall, who shot the puck through Lane for the three-goal lead.
The last Minnesota goal of the period was not scored by a Gopher at all. Again on the power play, Stephens threw the puck toward the net, where Dartmouth forward Meagan Walton attempted to clear it out of the crease and accidentally tucked it into her own net.
Dartmouth scored on its second power play of the night with two minutes left in the period, as Weatherston drew a faceoff win back to Piper, who slapped a bullet past Horak from the blue line.
“That’s something that our team has traditionally been pretty good at, coming back from a few goals down,” said Dartmouth senior defenseman and co-captain Alana BreMiller. “But once you get past that four or five goal difference, it’s pretty tough.”
The second period of the game saw a return to defense, as the two teams combined for just six shots throughout the frame — fewer than the number of goals scored in the first.
Dartmouth had the best chance of the period when Weatherston and Cheryl Muranko broke into the Gopher zone with a two-on-one break, but Horak made a save on Muranko’s attempt.
“That’s a tough game for a goalie, when you don’t see a lot of shots,” said Halldorson. “[Horak]‘s been a big game goalie for us her whole career, and she’s gotten the job done. She’s got one more game to go.”
In the third, Minnesota salted the win with two goals, a power play goal from Wendell on the rebound of a Stephens shot, and a final goal from Gopher freshman center Jenelle Philipczyk, who was left alone when a diving Becky Wacker carried a defender out of play.
“They executed well,” said Hudak. “They scored when they needed to score and when they got the chances. We didn’t.”
The win sets up a meeting with Harvard, a rematch from the 2004 NCAA championship game, won by Minnesota 6-2.
“When I think of Harvard, they remind me alot of ourselves,” said Halldorson. “They’ve got the big line, and a strong power play. It should be a great game. I think you’ll see a lot of offense up and down the ice.”