Zevi Metal: W. Hockey's Best Effort Not Enough
It was a rude awakening for the No. 5 Harvard women's hockey team when junior co-captain Jennifer Botterill's slapper skidded just wide of the
goal mouth as the buzzer sounded to end Saturday's game against No. 3 St. Lawrence.
The Crimson (9-6-0, 9-2-0 ECAC) had done everything it could to send the game to overtime. After a timeout with four seconds left, Harvard Coach Katey Stone sent six skaters into the faceoff to the left of the St. Lawrence
net. Co-captain Angie Francisco won the draw to Botterill, who fired a near-perfect shot from just outside the left circle. But it wasn't enough.
"We did everything right on that play," Stone said. "We practiced that draw all week and we put ourselves in a position to tie at the end of the game. I can't be disappointed because we're learning how to execute and getting better every game."
Harvard has plenty of time--and potential--to get better, but on Saturday, the Crimson lost to a better team. The Saints are 9-1-2 since losing their first two games to Minnesota-Duluth, which is now ranked No. 2 in the country. With a tie against No. 1 Dartmouth and wins over five ranked teams thus far, St. Lawrence is a young team on the rise.
"We're still getting over the hurdle of recognizing that we're expected to beat good teams on the road," said St. Lawrence Coach Paul Flanagan. "We were nervous playing a team like Harvard and we showed it in the first period. But we settled down, made some adjustments and got the breaks we needed to win the game."
The Saints have all the ingredients to beat a high-scoring team like the Crimson. Harvard seemingly controlled the action for the first 40 minutes, outshooting St. Lawrence 27-13, but the Crimson went into the second intermission clinging to a one-goal lead. The Saints were able to slow the tempo in the final 20 minutes--both teams had just eight shots on goal in the third period--and that was the difference in the game.
Harvard has the talent to beat St. Lawrence, as it showed in a 2-1 Crimson victory at Appleton Arena last month. But St. Lawrence has the type of personnel that gives Harvard trouble. As they showed in the final period on Saturday, the Saints simply dominate the Crimson in three important facets of the game: goaltending, defense and depth.
"We really tried to use all four lines in the third period," Flanagan said. "In the locker room we talked about going with short shifts and sticking with that until the end of the game. We really wanted to overwhelm Harvard physically and tire them out. And it helps that our goaltender is like an extra defenseman on the ice."
Indeed, freshman goaltender Rachel Barrie is an example of the impressive recruiting job that Flanagan has done in his two years at the helm in Canton, N.Y. Last year Flanagan convinced Barrie, who is third in the country in both goals-against average and save percentage, to stay close to her
home in Canada even after she was accepted at Harvard.
Barrie kept the score close early in the game although Harvard outshot St. Lawrence in the first period, 16-5. At the other end of the ice, the Saints took a 1-0 lead when center Amanda Sargeant whacked the puck past Harvard's rookie netminder, Jessica Ruddock, after a Crimson breakdown in the defensive zone.
Meanwhile, it took two perfect plays by the Harvard special teams unit--a give-and-go between Francisco and Botterill on the power play and a patented Botterill-Shewchuk two-on-one breakaway with a man down--to produce the Crimson's two goals. That's because the St. Lawrence defense, led by sophomore Isabelle Chartrand and rookie Lindsay Charlebois, did the dirty work to take away most of Harvard's quality chances around the net.
And St. Lawrence also got goals from three different forward lines. With 10 sophomores and two freshmen on the team, Flanagan has the depth to play four lines consistently, and he needed all of them to beat Harvard on Saturday.
Of course, St. Lawrence isn't the only young team to emerge in women's hockey this season. Out west, Ohio State and Wisconsin surprised Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth, the two dominant teams in the fledgling WCHA. Northeastern handed Dartmouth its first loss on Friday night. As talented as Harvard is offensively, the improving competition is the reason the Crimson is just three games above .500.
But Harvard is still in first place in the conference--partly because it has played more games than teams like St. Lawrence--and has the potential to beat good teams down the stretch. As Botterill, Shewchuk and Francisco showed against the Saints, the Crimson can score against good defenses with quality goaltenders. But Harvard cannot afford to give up sloppy goals at the other end.
There is certainly room for improvement in the defensive zone. Ruddock, who played like a freshman over the weekend, should get better with more experience between the pipes. And moving senior Tara Dunn to the blueline should benefit the defensive zone coverage in the long run.
Harvard didn't play a perfect game yesterday against Cornell, either. But the Crimson got the job done when it counted most, scoring three goals on 12 shots in the final period to erase a one-goal deficit and beat the Big Red. Controlling the third period is a step in the right direction.
But there is still a lot of work to be done before March. Just as reading period is a time to study for exams, the women's hockey team needs the month of January to study how to beat quality opponents. Its first two exams are this Friday and Saturday when Northeastern and Providence come to the Bright Center.