Botterill and Ruggerio: a dynamic duo
Jen Botterill and Angela Ruggiero do not have a simple relationship.
For one, they play on arch-rival national hockey squads, and not just any arch-rivals: Botterill skates for Canada and Ruggiero for the United States.
When they are not opposing each other at the Winter Olympics or the World Championships, the two skate together on the starting line-up of Harvard's national champion hockey team, one of the most dominant squads in women's collegiate hockey history.
To top it off, they form two-thirds of a cramped Leverett triple.
Surprisingly, they get along all of the time.
"We never really fight," Botterill said one recent evening in the Leverett dining hall. "We just seem to agree on so much."
Ruggiero sees a great commonality in their life-long pursuits.
"We both want the same things, and we both go out every day and try to get those things," Ruggiero said. "When I'm not working hard and I see Jen out there on the ice, I want to go out there and hustle because she's giving it up. We feed off each other."
Top Dogs Take the Lead
After losing its fourth game of the season early in December, the Crimson won 30 straight games, dominated the Eastern College Athletic Conference and captured Harvard's first national hockey championship in ten years by beating the University of New Hampshire, 6-5, in overtime.
Overall, the Crimson outscored its opponents 218 to 62.
"Last year couldn't have gone any better for us," Botterill said. "Playing hockey was so much fun here last year. Everyone loved practices and loved pushing each other."
Botterill and Ruggiero were at the center of the team's romp. Both captured All-America honors and made the ECAC all-rookie team, and the two combined for 149 points, remarkable for a pair of freshmen.
Botterill, a forward from Alberta, Canada, scored 37 goals and assisted on 51 others for the season.
And she scored when it counted.
The sophomore netted a hat trick and had two assists in the team's 5-3 win against Brown in the ECAC semifinals, and she had two assists and the game-winning goal in sudden-death overtime against UNH.
Ruggiero, who grew up in California but now lives in Michigan, established herself as one of the premiere defensemen in the ECAC last year. She made opponents pay with punishing play in the defensive zone and with equally impressive play on offense, tallying 21 goals and 40 assists.
Ruggiero also knew when to turn it on. She had Harvard's first goal and one assist in the championship game.
But to hear the two talk about last season, you would think they rode the bench for most of the team's run.
When reflecting on the championship-winning shot, the unassuming Botterill takes the moment in stride.
"Getting the goal was definitely one of my fondest memories," she said. "But it wasn't that I scored the goal, it was just that winning that championship game was our ultimate goal for the season, and that was what everyone wanted to achieve. The fact that we made it their together, that's what made it so thrilling."
The two talk about everything else--the great Harvard crowd, their teammates, their coaching, their defensive and offensive set-ups--before mentioning their own role on and off the ice.
It is part of their nature to be humble, but the two have nothing to be humble about.
Changing of the Guard
The senior amassed multiple honors after her final season, including ECAC Player of the Year, ECAC Tournament MVP and the Patty Kazmaier Award for the most outstanding player in women's college hockey.
With a star gone and a national championship to defend, the Crimson must look within itself for the leadership co-captains Mleczko and vocal defenseman Claudio Asano provided during last year's 33-1 season.
With the history that Ruggiero and Botterill have at the international level, leadership on and off the ice ought to come easily.
"We are not the rookies anymore, so I think we have the opportunity to step in when we feel we need to and say a little more," Ruggiero said.
Although the two were natural leaders last season, as newcomers to the team they both saw the limits to their own leadership roles.
"I think there are so many kinds of leadership," Botterill said. "Our captains play a huge role, but I think Rugger and I have our own ways of leading, whether by sharing our experiences or just leading by example."
Ruggiero sees a large change in the type of leadership the two can offer the team this year.
"Last year was a little bit difficult because we could lead by example, but we were still freshmen," Ruggiero said. "This year I think it will be a little bit different, and I'd like to think that we could lead the team in some way, though it's still early."
After growing up playing hockey with her brother in California, Ruggiero, or "Rugger" as she is known throughout Harvard and the hockey world, attended Choate.
When she was only fifteen, Ruggiero attended a regional developmental camp run by the National team to weed out talented 15 to 18 year-old players for possible spots at the national level. Although Ruggiero was a year younger than the rest of the competition, she was selected to attend the national team training camp with 80 other teenagers.
Only a youngster at the time, Ruggiero impressed national coaches and earned a spot on the senior national team alongside players twice her age. The experience was surreal.
"We went to Finland right away and I was only 15," Ruggiero said. "It was my first out of North America and I was playing with thirty-year olds. I was in awe just to be there, to play with people I had heard about."
Botterill's path to the Canadian National Team started later in her high school career.
When she was a senior in high school in 1996, Botterill moved to Calgary and attended the National Sports School where she caught the attention of national-level coaches. With an Olympic year approaching, Botterill decided to forego college for one year and move to Calgary to train with the national team.
"Everyone from the team moved to Calgary for the year and were training full time on the ice everyday and working out in the afternoon. It was quite intense." Botterill said. "We had to push each other every day, but it was great."
Once on their respective national teams, Botterill and Ruggiero spent the rest of the year training at the Olympic Oval in Calgary and Lake Placid in upstate New York, traveling for exhibition games against men's teams and other national squads. The schedule included many scrimmages between Canada and the United States, though Ruggiero and Botterill never met.
At Nagano, Canada was picked to be among the strongest teams in the tournament, but the United States still had much to prove. When the finals came, however, it was a North American duel. Team USA came out on top, 3-1.
"There is so much excitement, so much pressure and so much crowd support at the Olympics," Botterill said. "It had been a dream of mine since I was really small to go to the Olympics and represent Canada, so to get there it was incredible."
For Ruggiero, the Olympics were about more than a gold medal.
"I hung out with Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte--they were my two buds. Mike Richter was also nice, but Mike Modano and Keith Tchachuck were not so cool," Ruggiero said.
Ruggiero and Botterill have since faced off against one another at the World Championships last March in Finland and the Under-22 World Championships at Lake Placid this summer.
The Harvard teammates do not talk much with each other about their international play, opting to leave everything on the ice.
"A couple of times we would go into the corner and I would realize that it was Rugger on the other side, but most of the time you just play your game and have a good time," Botterill said.
After the tournament, the two get back to life at Harvard.
"We might talk about Worlds for a while, but we do not really talk about the medals because it's a small division between us, and we have a respect for each other's country." Ruggiero said.
Nonetheless, the two have come to Harvard with a similar, extensive international experience that is bound to contribute to Harvard's 1999-2000 season.
With Mleczko gone, Ruggiero and Botterill look to step into a leadership role this season as Harvard attempts to repeat as national champions.
"Rugger" and "Bots" Go to Harvard
After Nagano, Ruggiero and Botterill began making official visits to different schools, most of which were in the ECAC.
They later met while on a recruiting trip to Brown. The two internationals hit it off and exchanged phone numbers.
"We were in touch throughout the whole process of traveling to schools and making the pick," Ruggiero said. "I'm not going to say that we chose Harvard together, but we talked about the different schools a lot."
The transition to Harvard was hardest on the academic front, since both players had been away from the books for a considerable amount of time.
Hockey, however, was not a problem. Although Ruggiero and Botterill found the ECAC to be a little slower than the international level, both recognized the high level of play that Harvard faced on a weekly basis and easily made the adjustment.
The two discovered they work especially well in tandem on the power play.
With Ruggiero at the center of the point and Botterill on her left on the forward's off-stick side, the combination is intuitive.
"When I get the puck at the top I often don't think much about the pass over to Bots," Ruggiero said. "Yeah, it just comes naturally a lot of the time."
With a shared championship, Leverett triple and international experience, Ruggiero and Botterill will be a devastating duo in Harvard's quest for another ECAC title.