The No. 2 Harvard women's hockey team extended its winning streak to four games with strong weekend performances against Maine and No. 4 UNH, proving that it has left behind its mid-season slump and is looking very strong as the playoffs approach.
Sophomore center Jennifer Botterill and junior winger Tammy Shewchuk both had eleven points on the high-scoring weekend, as the Crimson beat the Black Bears 10-2 on Friday night at Bright and returned to defeat UNH 6-4 the next evening.
Saturday's game featured eight of the ECAC's top 13 scorers, but it was Botterill and Shewchuk who proved they could come up big in the big game.
Shewchuk had two goals, including the game-winner off a pass from Botterill, and two assists, while Botterill had a goal and assisted on three others.
With the win on Saturday night, the Crimson extended their winning streak against the Wildcats to six games, including last year's AWCHA championship game that ended with Botterill's game-winner in overtime.
Harvard 6, UNH 4
Despite beginning the weekend ranked higher than the Wildcats in the national standings, Harvard's losses to Providence and Dartmouth earlier in the season and recent non-league action in the Beanpot placed it one spot behind the third-place Wildcats in the ECAC points column.
Shewchuk hit the eventual game-winner with her second goal of the evening at 18:20 of the second period. Shewchuk took a pass from Botterill and found the rope after junior Angie Francisco found Botterill in the middle.
Harvard's first-period performance indicated that it was out to right the league standings and continue its strong play as the playoffs approach quickly.
The Crimson dominated the first period against last year's runner-up in the AWCHA Championship, outshooting the Wildcats 18-4 in the opening frame while building a 3-0 lead before the first intermission.
Junior winger Kiirsten Suurkask tipped senior defenseman Christie MacKinnon's shot from the point past UNH goalie Jen Huggon to make it 1-0 at 8:53. Huggon won last week's ECAC Rookie of the Week for her 29-save performance last weekend against Maine and Dartmouth, but could not handle the Crimson's first period onslaught.
MacKinnon's shot was one of the many from the point as Harvard pelted the UNH net with a combination of tight passing through the slot and patience along the top of the zone.
Offensive production from the Crimson's second line had been spotty lately, and Suurkask's opening goal was a welcome sign at the start of a period that saw the Crimson control the middle of the ice and mount a concerted offensive effort in the Wildcat zone.
Botterill, who earned the Beanpot MVP two weeks ago after notching the game-winner against Northeastern in the first overtime of the championship game, struck five minutes later after freshman winger Kalen Ingram found her center in front of the net.
Botterill beat Huggon with a snappy high backhander to put the Crimson up by two at 13:57. Junior winger Tammy Shewchuk also picked up a point for the assist.
The Crimson found itself short-handed a couple of minutes later when freshman defenseman Pam Van Reesma went to the penalty box for cross checking at 14:42, but with a 2-0 cushion, Harvard continued to press Huggon's net.
The pressure paid off when Botterill found classmate Angela Ruggiero in the slot. Ruggiero, whose slapshot is among the hardest in the ECAC and is a constant threat from the point, batted at the slow-moving puck and beat Huggon with a dinger to the glove side.
Despite Harvard's domination in the first period, the frame saw a great deal of physical play, as the Crimson only found opportunities on the net after fending off some aggressive Wildcat challenges.
There were three Wildcat penalties in the first 10 minutes, including slashing and cross-checking calls right before the midway point of the period. Harvard seemed to answer when Shewchuk went to the box for slashing at 10:18, and the pace slowed little throughout the rest of the game.
UNH wasted little time leveling the play at the start of the first period, as defenseman Karry Maher put a rebound shot past Harvard goalie Crystal Springer on the Wildcat powerplay at 4:38 after junior forward Tara Dunn went to the box for hooking.
The Wildcats found themselves with a man-advantage eight times in the game, but only could convert on one of those chances. The Crimson went 0-for-3 on the powerplay for the evening.
Botterill connected with Shewchuk for the winger's first goal of the night a few minutes later, extending the Crimson's lead to 4-1 at 9:07.
The Wildcats wasted little time in recalling the resiliency that put them in the AWCHA championship last year and has made them tough all season. Despite Shewchuk's quick answer to the Wildcats' first goal, UNH struck back quickly on winger Tina Carrabba's goal at 11:08, assisted by line mates Carisa Zaban and Samantha Holmes, making it 4-2 with a lot left on the clock.
The momentum moved further towards the visitors when the Wildcats' top line struck again four minutes later. Holmes and Carrabba connected to feed Zaban to close the Crimson lead to one goal at 15:32.
Shewchuk closed the period with her second goal, putting the Crimson up for good.
After a first period dominated by the Crimson, UNH had leveled the shot count at 11-11 in the second and continued to outshoot Harvard into the third period. Efforts would be futile, though, as the Crimson looked comfortable behind its two-goal lead at the start of the final frame.
The Wildcats got a scare when Huggon took a nasty spill in the eighth minute and had to be taken to a local hospital for examination. Huggon appeared to be all right according to reports later in the game.
With Huggon gone, the Wildcats put Alicia Roberts in the net only to pull her in the final minute to try to erase the Crimson's two-goal lead.
The move paid off when Holmes beat Springer at 19:23, but Francisco and Shewchuk combined to knock the puck out of the Crimson zone after the ensuing face-off, and Ingram skated on to the fleeing disc to seal the Crimson win with only 23 seconds left in the game.
Harvard 10, Maine 2
The Harvard women were looking for a "solid team effort" to sweep the weekend home-stand, hoping to get on a roll heading for the ECAC quarterfinals a mere two weeks away.
The first five minutes of Friday's game were split evenly between the two teams, with sloppy play on both sides and neither team controlling much of the play, but Crimson superiority was clearly evident before the first period was even halfway over.
Harvard's skillful dismantling of the Black Bears was sparked with two early first period goals scored by Shewchuck. The junior winger, who is the current points leader for the Crimson and the No. 2 scorer in the ECAC with 27 goals and 27 assists, followed up her two goals with five consecutive assists and was involved in all but three of Harvard's goals on the night.
Shewchuk's stellar performance was one of many for the Crimson. Ingram registered a hat trick and Botterill had a remarkable six assists on the evening.
Angela Ruggiero rifled a slapshot from the blue line with 6:23 left in the first period that beat Maine goaltender Amanda Cronin and found the back of the net with ease. The goal was Ruggiero's first of two on the night, but the long distance, shorthanded strike symbolized the end for the overmatched Black Bears.
Harvard's defense was rarely challenged throughout the night, but it did get a chance to show its resiliency after Maine forward Kelly Nelson scored the Black Bears' first goal of the night with 6:10 left in the first period.
Down 5-1, Maine was looking to surge off of Nelson's goal, but the Crimson responded, not allowing Maine another solid attempt on goal until the third period, when Raffi Wolfe hit a slapshot from just inside the blue line that slipped just over goaltender Alison Kuusisto's glove hand. Kuusisto had come in for starter Crystal Springer at the start of the second period.
"Maine always battles, but our team played really well together," Botterill said.
Aside from two minor defensive lapses that resulted in Maine goals, the Crimson played a near flawless game, controlling the puck and the speed of the game from start to finish.
The game saw many outstanding individual performances from Botterill, Shewchuck and others, but according to Botterill the key to winning was "a collective team effort [in which] everyone went out and did their job."
With two wins against Maine and New Hampshire over the weekend the Harvard women extended their winning streak to four games, the longest of the season. The Crimson look to carry that momentum into next weekend where they will face ECAC rivals Princeton and Yale on the road.