Ten goals. Nine assists. Two hat tricks. All in a weekend’s worth of work against the best teams the country had to offer.
The first line for the Minnesota Gophers left a legacy that may be difficult to top.
Center Krissy Wendell, left wing Kelly Stephens and right wing Natalie Darwitz danced their way around the ice, leaving their opponents dizzy and gasping for air. And nearly burning out the red light behind the opposition’s net.
Minnesota scored a Frozen Four record 11 goals. The first line had all but one of them. Out of 24 points, the first line had 19.
“[I have to] thank [the first line] for getting the job done this weekend,” Minnesota’s coach Laura Halldorson said in perhaps the understatement of the day.
“It feels pretty good to send them over the boards when you need a goal. The skill they have and the way they work together. It’s unbelievable, and we’re very fortunate to have them on our team.”
“That’s a great thing about our line,” Darwitz said. “On any given night either me, Kelly or Krissy can put the puck in the net.
Each game Minnesota entered the third period locked in a tie. Each third period, the first line jumped over the boards and got the goal … two goals … three goals … that the Gophers needed. For the championship game, it took just nine seconds, a record. Close games turned into routes.
“We were obviously trying to contain them, and we did that very well for the first two periods,” Harvard’s captain Angela Ruggiero said. “They obviously have a lot of firepower.”
Of course, great lines have to start with players who have a high level of skill. However, that doesn’t guarantee the chemistry exists. This particular line didn’t even get put together until recently.
At the start of last year, they briefly played together, but Halldorson wanted to spread the scoring around, so she put the players on separate lines. Finally, when Darwitz came back in February this year from her injury, Halldorson decided it was time to go for concentrated power. Much to the chagrin of the other teams.
The coach’s reasoning was simple: “We don’t think that this line can be stopped.”
“We got together as a line a little over a month and a half ago,” Wendell said. “We’re great friends off the ice and tremendous linemates. We just go out there and play as hard as we can.”
“I think we understand each other as hockey players,” Darwitz said. “Our tendencies. We know where each other are going to be. We click. We work so well together.”
The opposition echoed those thoughts.
“All three of them are really good,” said Harvard’s coach Katey Stone. “They move the puck well. They jump into holes. They explode well off the puck. They know where they’re going to be all the time.”
However, Darwitz got tired of hearing all the accolades. “Our line didn’t win a national championship,” she said. “Our team won a national championship. Our line should not get all the credit for it. Our team is an amazing team.”
An amazing team with an amazing line. A line that is going to be together for quite some time still. Stephens is a junior and the other two are sophomores.
And if that doesn’t strike fear in the minds of defensmen around the country, consider what Darwitz said: “When our line gets going…”
She didn’t need to finish the line in the press conference. On the ice, her line always finished off the opponent. And when it counted the most, they finished off Harvard for the national championship.