Wendell’s A Winner

With a dominating presence, Minnesota’s top line of Olympians Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz, both two time All-Americans as sophomores, along with Team USA member Kelly Stephens, Minnesota overcame a first period 1-0 deficit, scored four goals in the third period and cruised to a four-goal win.

That’s the story of Sunday’s championship game between Minnesota and Harvard. Harvard led 1-0 at the end of the first period, on a nifty redirection goal by Kat Sweet. After trading goals in the second, the two teams were deadlocked at two heading into the third. The fabled first line then exploded with four goals in the third period, two by Natlie Darwitz and one each by linemates Kelly Stephens and Krissy Wendell. 6-2 final.

But that’s also the story of Friday’s semifinal matchup with Dartmouth. Dartmouth’s Krista Dornfield gave the Big Green a 1-0 lead after the first, and Minnesota scored to make it a one all tie after two. That first line went to work, with two Krissy Wendell goals to go with a pair of Kelly Stephens markers. 5-1 final.

Harvard coach Katey Stone was left shaking her head when asked what her team might have done wrong that let Minnesota dominate the third period of the championship game.

“They’re good. They’re really good,” she said. “They explode well off the puck. They know where they are going to be all the time…I would really compliment them on their game. It was tremendous.”

Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson is happy to have those caliber players on her bench.

“It’s pretty good to send them over the boards when you need a goal,” she said. “The skill they have and the way they work together, with speed, is unbelievable, and we’re forunate to have them on our team.”

The first line was the center of both remarkable third periods, and the center of that first line, both literally and figuratively, is Krissy Wendell, named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2004 Women’s Frozen Four.

Wendell is certainly used to accolades. Early in her career, she played baseball, gaining renown as one of the top players in the state of Minnesota. She won the Ms. Hockey Award, presented annually to the most outstanding high school women’s hockey player, in 2000 when she scored a state record 110 goals while leading her Park Center team to the state championship. Before heading off to college, she took a detour to play with the Olympic team in 2002, which captured the silver medal.

As a freshmen at Minnesota last year, Wendell was named one of 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, presented to the top collegiate hockey player. At second on the team in scoring, she was also a Second Team All-American, missing likely First Team status because of some injuries that kept her out of eight games. She and her teammates made a trip to the Frozen Four in Duluth.

How to top that?

For her sophomore season, she stayed healthy, and this time led the team in scoring. She was named a First Team All-American, earned another nod as a Kazmaier top 10 finalist, earned the WCHA Final Five MVP with six points in two games as Minnesota won the postseason tournament over archrival Minnesota-Duluth, and Wendell and the Gophers earned a repeat trip to the Frozen Four.

But she saved the best for last.

On Friday in a the semifinal game against Dartmouth, Wendell had four points on three goals and one assist, which tied her for most points in a game. Then against Harvard on Sunday she did it again, with these four points coming on one goal and three assists. The eight points in a weekend are a new record, eclipsing the old total of six. The three assists are a game record, the four a weekend record. She tied the record for most goals in a championship weekend.

All these numbers are dizzying, and maybe a little deceptive. After all, the NCAA records are only four years old, so records will probably be broken with some regularity for a little while. After all, other records fell, too. Like the fastest goal to open a period, 0:09, scored by Natalie Darwitz. And most goals scored in a weekend by one team, 11, by Minnesota.

But make no mistake about it. In the already short history of the NCAA Women’s Hockey Frozen Four, there have been some amazing players, and some talented teams. Jennifer Botterill, the only two time Patty Kazmaier Award winner, played in this tournament twice. Last year’s title matchup, won in overtime by Minnesota-Duluth over Harvard, was a game for the ages.

But no team has ever been as dominating in a championship weekend as this Minnesota team. And no line has been as dominating as Minnesota’s first line. And no member of that first line was quite as dominating as Krissy Wendell.

That’s not too surprising, considering how she feels about the sport she plays.

“I love hockey,” she said, simply. “Even when I was playing baseball, I flew back early to play hockey.

“Hockey is my first love and always will be.”

Of course, every championship player worth her salt is also humble, and Wendell was quick to point out that hockey is a team game. The score was 2-1 Harvard in the second period, when the second line managed to get the equalizer that paved the way for Wendell and company’s heroics.

“Sometimes we get bounces going our way, and sometimes we don’t,” Wendell pointed out. “Like you saw, the second line chipped in that tying goal, and that got us going. Sometimes we get them going, sometimes they get us going.”

Now it’s off to Halifax, Nova Scotia for Wendell, Darwitz and Stephens. The three of them will be playing for Team USA in the World Championships, along with Harvard defenseman Angela Ruggiero. The team starts playing Tuesday.

Maybe Wendell will win an award. It wouldn’t be surprising.