The squad has gotten tougher, but so has the schedule.
Going into its sixth season, the third under Coach John Dooley, the Harvard women's ice hockey team appears to be the best team in the sport's short Crimson history.
But Dooley--rather than resting on his laurels at the expense of some of the East's fledgling teams--has charted a nightmarish course this season for the ice women. He has transformed an already difficult schedule into a brutal campaign which matches the Crimson against hockey power-houses game after game.
"I think it's [the more difficult schedule] good, if we're thinking of going in the post-season tournament direction," Dooley said. "We're going to have to face that kind of iron then."
The schedule should only toughen a team whose strength is in its experience, Dooley said.
Returning to the net this year is Co-Captain Cheryl Tate, the Grant Blair of women's Ivy ice hockey. The four-year starter will anchor a strong and experienced defense.
All-Ivy honorable mention defenseman Megan Berthold and cohorts Sue Newell and Deb Taft take the ice for their fourth season. However, the team needs one more defenseman to stabilize its lineup at the blueline.
The lack of a fourth defenseman is only a small indication of Dooley's fragile numbers game. If Earl Weaver loved deep depth, John Dooley would love to have a single reserve. There are only 15 players on the team. Dooley literally does not have a single skater to sit on the bench in case of injury.
On the red line the Crimson boasts a strong starting unit, but the other lines are plagued by inexperience.
"We have to get an awful lot of mileage out of a few people," Dooley added. "Kathy Carroll and [Co-Captain] Diane Hurley did it last year as well as three defensemen. Those people have to maintain their endurance."
Dooley is careful to pace the development of the team over the course of the season. His aim is to peak the Crimson just as its regular season winds down.
Encounters with powerhouses like the University of New Hampshire--the winner last year of the University Cup which represents the championship of North America--tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Bright Center will only help the squad in the long run, Dooley said.
Last year's season ended in controversy when the Crimson rejected a bid to the Eastern Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women [EAIAW] tournament. It was Harvard's first bid to participate in post-season competition, but the squad elected not to attend in protest of an invitation tendered to Potsdam State. Many believed that the Bears joined the Association at that late date only to receive a tournament bid.
Now, the EAIAW is gone, replaced by the Eastern College Athletic Conference [ECAC]. This year's tournament will be held in Lake Placid, N.Y., but it will include only four teams. However, there is a possibility of an additional four-team invitational which will be played at the same time.
Presently, Dooley is preoccupied with only two goals: the Ivy championships and capturing the Beanpot. Victory over Dartmouth in the team's season opener last Tuesday strengthens Harvard's chances to achieve Dooley's first goal. The Big Green and a perennially tough Princeton squad stand between the Crimson and the title.
Harvard has garnered two consecutive Beanpots with miraculous wins over nationally-ranked Northeastern. Last year, despite dropping an early-season 7-1 decision to the Huskies, Harvard squeaked past in a 3-2 victory in the championship game which Dooley called, "the biggest win in Harvard women's hockey history." Tate, for the second consecutive year, captured the Beanpot MVP.
If its stellar netminder can keep churning out such performances and if serious injuries can be avoided, then perhaps Harvard can overcome the rigors of its challenging schedule and find its way to that elusive post-season tournament.