Through two periods last night at Bright Hockey Center, the impossible seemed achievable.
The best team in collegiate women's hockey, the unbeaten Providence Friars, hadn't scored.
The Harvard Crimson, losers of six of 10 games on the season, had.
But what might have been the greatest upset in Harvard women's hockey history fell by the wayside, as Olympians Cammie Granato and Stephanie O'Sullivan scored third-period goals to give the Friars (6-0) a 2-1 win over the Crimson (4-7).
Harvard Coach John Dooley would not let that final score bother him, though. "This was a great team effort with a lot of heart. They gave it everything they had, and you have to be pleased with the result," he said.
To put this one in perspective, a little history lesson is in order. Going into last night's game, Providence had won all 13 previous meetings between the two schools. Five were shutouts, including a 6-0 drubbing of the Crimson back on November 22.
Providence, a school with so much talent that Sports Illustrated has been following it around throughout the year, features 22 skaters. Harvard, even with freshman defender Suzanne Obst back in the lineup (who sat out a game with the flu), had but 11.
And the Friars used their bench strength as much as possible. From the opening faceoff, Providence dictated an up-tempo, physical game, designed to wear down the understaffed Crimson.
"They are a strong, physical team," senior Co-Captain Kim Landry said. "They skate fast and pass the puck so well. But we played so incredibly. The fact that we had them down for two periods makes the loss hurt."
Harvard did hold its own in the first stanza, despite the game's frenetic pace. After pinning the Crimson deep in its zone for much of the early going, the Providence defense began make some mistakes. Sophomore Winkie Mleczko flicked a wrist-shot into the pack in front of the net. After a wild flurry of slashing at the puck, sophomore Diana Clark corralled the puck and stuffed it past Friar goalie Gina Martinello with 2:28 remaining in the first period.
"Easily the best period we've played all year," Dooley said afterwards. "We've never given such a focused effort before, and our second line [Clark, Megan Hall and Sara Simmons] gave such a disciplined effort."
But the effort couldn't last. Harvard knew scoring again would be difficult and it would be up to sophmore netminder Erin Villiotte to protect the lead. Even though the Friars outshot the Crimson, 17-0, in the second period (on their way to a 37-8 shot advantage in the game), Villiotte held firm.
Just over a minute into the third, though, Granato tipped in a rebound of an O'Sullivan shot to tie the game at one. With 6:34 remaining, O'Sullivan took a pass from junior Lynn Manning and launched an open 15-footer from the left slot through Villiotte's five-hole for the game-winner.
Even given her outstanding performance in net, Villiote couldn't forget about that last goal. "It wasn't a very good goal on my part. There was a late screen, but I still should have had it," she said.
Seconds after O'Sullivan's goal, the Crimson had its best chance to equalize, when senior Co-Captain Joey Alissi led a 3-on-1 rush over the red line, only to be flattened by a Wendy Cofran body check.
"I don't know where Joey got her energy from there at the end. She was just fantastic," Dooley said. "Still, we should have gotten a call there. But I'm happy with our performance. Now we can go into an important weekend with a lot of confidence, having played against the best and almost coming out on top." PROVIDENCE, 2-1 at Bright Hockey Center Providence 0 0 2 --2 Harvard 1 0 0 --1
Harvard--Clark (Hall, Simmons) 12:32.
Providence--Granato (O'Sullivan, Manning) 1:06.
Providence--O'Sullivan (Manning) 8:26.
Saves:Providence--Martinello 4-0-3-7; Harvard--Villiotte 10-17-8-35.