Skating in the comfy confines of Cambridge’s Bright Hockey Center this past Friday (Feb. 29), the No. 1 ranked Harvard women’s hockey team (currently 28-1-0) found itself in some pretty strange territory: down a goal in the third period. For a team on a 16-game victory streak, the Crimson’s struggle against a below .500 Cornell club (which Harvard had already handily beaten this season, twice) in the opening contest of a critical best-of-three playoff series was also pretty scary.
In those final 20 minutes of play, however, the Crimson managed to resuscitate the aggressive style that has long been a hallmark of their season, bravely outshooting the Big Red 23 to 4 en route to a comeback win. Crimson junior Jenny Brine ignited the spark with a power-play goal a mere one minute into the third stanza to tie things up at 2-2. Eleven minutes later, the forward capitalized on another player-up opportunity to send the Crimson past the potential spoilers, 3-2. Consider Harvard’s mettle tested.
With scarcely a backwards glance, Harvard went on to confidently overwhelm the Big Red, 4-2, the following night (March 1), staying unbeaten in Ivy play and, more importantly, advancing to this Saturday’s ECAC semifinal versus Clarkson (March 8 at Bright Hockey Center). The winner of that match will battle either St. Lawrence or Dartmouth on Sunday (March 9 at Bright Hockey Center) for the ECAC title.
Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Sarah Vaillancourt ’08 paced the Crimson effort in game two with goals in the first and third periods. The senior, who was recently crowned the Ivy League’s Player of the Year, leads the Ancient Eight in goals and helpers. Additionally, she is currently second in the nation in assists per game and in the top 10 in goals per contest.
In a game marked by physical play (it being a must-win for Cornell, after all), the teams combined for 17 penalties on the afternoon. Meanwhile, between the pipes, Crimson goaltender Christina Kessler ’10 recorded 27 saves in the second contest to bring her series total to 47. Across the ice, Jenny Niesluchowski of Cornell was dynamite, registering 53 and 49 saves in the first and second games, respectively.
In men’s action, meanwhile, Harvard bested host Cornell, 3-1, on Saturday (March 1) with its own two-goal third period. Seniors Paul Dufault, Mike Taylor, and Tyler Magura, each playing in their final regular season contest as Harvard athletes, tallied a goal apiece in the win.
The victory extended Harvard’s unbeaten streak to six, while securing the club (14-11-4 overall) a first-round playoff bye. Currently ranked No. 20, Harvard will open ECAC postseason play at home with a quarterfinal series March 14-16.