This is the final story in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's 20th anniversary all-time team. This week's honoree is Krissy Wendell-Pohl, a forward who played at Minnesota from 2002-03 to 2004-05
By Bill Brophy
In this series of the 20 best players over the first 20 years of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, arguably we have saved the best players for last.
"When you talk about Krissy Wendell,'' said Ben Smith, the long-time coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, "there has never been one like her, at least for me."
Natalie Darwitz was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in December and spent much of her induction speech lobbying that Wendell, her former teammate at the University of Minnesota and on the Olympic team, should be in the Hall as well.
Wendell, a two-time Olympian and the first WCHA player to ever win a Patty Kazmaier Award, has always been special.
In two years of girls hockey at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn, she scored 219 goals. As a senior, her team won the state girls hockey title in Minnesota and she had 110 goals and 55 assists and was named Ms. Hockey. She was the first high school player — boy or girl — in the nation to score more than 100 goals in a season, and she did it twice.
Wendell grew up playing with the boys – both in hockey and baseball. She was fifth girl to ever play in the Little League World Series and the first to ever start as a catcher in Williamsport, Pa.
Wendell also played boys high school hockey, until her sophomore season when her finger was stepped on by a skate early. The injury required surgery. While she recovered, Wendell told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, she had time to watch girls high school hockey and realized she wanted to play her final two years of high school hockey with girls.
"I look back and think of how much I would've missed out on had I not switched over and the friends I met and the people I got to meet by switching over, it was awesome," said Wendell in a story when the Pioneer Press named her the No. 1 player on the paper' s list of the top 25 players to play Minnesota girls high school hockey. "I'm really thankful for the opportunities and thankful to even have an opportunity to go play with the girls, because I know had we been five years, six years earlier, there wouldn't have even been that option."
After helping put girls hockey on the marquee in Minnesota's winter tournament season, Wendell spent the next two years with the U.S. national team, playing for Smith, and was named USA Hockey player of the year in 2001. She had a goal and five assists while leading Team USA to a silver medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
After the Winter Games, Krissy took her talents to Dinkytown. Playing for the Gophers was Wendell's favorite period playing hockey, she says now. In three seasons with the Gophers, she amassed 237 points (106 goals and 131 assists), fourth all time in Gophers history.
"I absolutely loved my time at the University of Minnesota, from the coaches to the players to just the college," Wendell told the Pioneer Press. "It was for sure some of the best times I had playing hockey."
And a bad time for opposing coaches. It was Wendell and Darwitz, Darwitz and Wendell all the time for two memorable seasons at Ridder Arena. The pair bedeviled WCHA opponents. The two home run hitters led Minnesota to national championships in 2004 and 2005.
Darwitz had 246 points in 99 games with the Gophers, 142 of which were assists. Most, the Hall of Famer says humbly, were to Wendell.
"They were of me giving her breakout passes," Darwitz said in the Pioneer Press story. "I would get the breakout pass, I would take three strides, I would hit Krissy at about our defensive zone blue line and then I would just grab popcorn and go, 'There she goes!'
"And then she could pull the toe-drag move: She would take the defender inside out and just undress her, and then completely undress the goalie, and I got the best seat in the house because I was literally three or four feet behind her, watching."
Wendell scored the game-winning goal in the 2005 Final Faceoff title game against Wisconsin and had a hat trick in the NCAA title game against Harvard in Durham, N.H. She finished as the runner-up in the national scoring derby to Darwitz with 98 points and Wendell was named the winner of the 2005 Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female college player in the U.S.
After college, Wendell, now Wendell-Pohl, continued her international career. She played in six world championships, wining silver in five of them and was named MVP of the 2005 world championships, when she helped the U.S. win gold. She also was the captain of Team USA in Turin Italy, which won a bronze medal in the 2006 Olympics.
"I don't think anybody I ever played with or against could measure her competitive drive as far as the look in her eyes as far as 'I'm going to get this done. Hop on my back,'" Darwitz said. "She could just literally, at the snap of her fingers, dictate a game. And I don't think I've seen any other player do that in all of female hockey like she did."
Krissy, 37, married former Gopher star and former National Hockey League player John Pohl in 2007. They have three daughters. Wendell-Pohl and Pohl coached girls hockey at Cretin Durham Hall High School in St. Paul from 2011 until she resigned to become an administrator at Hill Murray in 2018. She also does work as an analyst on the Fox Sports North's hockey telecasts.
Darwitz thinks she should have one more title on the Wendell-Pohl resume.
"Krissy should be in this Hall of Fame with me," Darwitz said. "This isn't just a female thing, this is one of the most competitive, confident, natural goal-scoring hockey players I've ever seen. That's how I'd describe her."
About the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team
As it celebrates 20 Years of Excellence during the 2018-19 season, the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will honor the 20 alumnae named to the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team. The team will be revealed, one-by-one, in alphabetical order, one per week (except for the week of Dec. 24) through the week of March 4, prior to the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.
From an initial list of 120 nominations, representing each of the league's all-time eight schools, the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team Committee selected 41 finalists. To be nominated a player (forward, defenseman or goaltender) must have completed her collegiate eligibility at a WCHA institution (nominees did not have to play a full four seasons in the WCHA; however, current student-athletes were not eligible).
The WCHA 20th Anniversary team was determined by 1/3 fan vote, 1/3 WCHA alumnae vote and 1/3 Committee vote (consisting of two WCHA Office staff, one former and two current head coaches and three alumnae).
Other WCHA 20th Anniversary Team members:
Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson