Famed sports columnist Bob Ryan suggested in Monday’s Boston Globe that tomorrow’s women’s hockey game between No. 1 Harvard and No. 4 Dartmouth might be “The Best Show in Town” and challenged all doubters to come to the Bright Center for the 7 p.m. start. The Harvard and Dartmouth teams aren’t disagreeing, and they hope that the fans will answer the challenge.
Harvard-Dartmouth has been among the premier matchups in Eastern women’s college hockey. For the better part of four seasons, it has been the ECAC’s biggest draw.
“It’s just a great rivalry,” said Harvard captain Jennifer Botterill, the nation’s leading scorer. “They’ve been one of our best competitors over the years. Every time we meet it’s an intense matchup, and it’s bound to be a great hockey game.”
Dartmouth’s ECAC playoff victories over Harvard in 2000 and 2001 each drew over 2,400 fans to lead the league attendance lists for those seasons. The Harvard-Dartmouth game at Bright about two years ago drew 1,066—the largest home crowd Harvard’s drawn in the past four seasons.
Though the Crimson is No. 1 in the polls, its home fan support isn’t anywhere close to No. 1—it wasn’t even in the top 10 at midseason. No. 3 Minnesota is averaging over 1,800, while North Dakota and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth have flirted with the 1,000 mark. The paltry Harvard fan support has failed to crack the upper half of the Ivies with Dartmouth, Brown and Princeton all posting better numbers.
Empty seats haven’t had an adverse affect on Harvard’s home results—no Crimson opponent has lost by fewer than four goals at Bright this year. Yet that doesn’t mean greater attendance would not be appreciated.
“Whether we have a ton of fans or not, we just try to play our game,” said Harvard freshman Julie Chu. “But it’s definitely an advantage to have that extra crowd support there.”
Dartmouth is only the second nationally-ranked women’s hockey team to come to the Bright Center this year. The Big Green has won five straight, including a 6-3 win over Minnesota—the team that dealt Harvard its only defeat. There won’t be two hotter teams on the ice all season.
“It’s great entertainment,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “You get away from the sort of clutch-and-grab, bang-around hockey. It’s fast paced. It’s a great matchup. We’re really looking forward to it.”
While women’s hockey’s attendance figures have grown as the sport achieved NCAA status two seasons ago, there’s still a lot of room for growth.
“It’ll be great for people to come out and support women’s hockey, because I think when people haven’t been exposed to it, they don’t realize the entertainment value of it,” Botterill said.
Tomorrow’s Harvard-Dartmouth game will feature some of the greatest talent worldwide in women’s college hockey. Between the two teams, there are four Olympians, three Patty Kazmaier candidates and legions of national Under-22 players.
Dartmouth has been the No. 1 nemesis for the Harvard seniors, having knocked the Crimson out of the ECAC tournament each of the past three years. During those seasons, Harvard posted a 2-8 record against the Big Green.
Of the seven defeats the Crimson has suffered with captain Angela Ruggiero in the lineup, three of them were against Dartmouth—all in the 1999-2000 season, a landmark year in the rivalry.
Playing the underdog role against Harvard is nothing new for Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting.
“Historically, we’ve thrived in that position,” Oberting said.
When the Crimson raised its national championship banner prior to its 1999-2000 home opener, Dartmouth was the visiting team that had the privilege to watch. While most in the stands expected the Big Green to be Harvard’s 33rd straight victim dating back to early in the 1998-99 season, Dartmouth instead jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead and ultimately prevailed 5-4 in overtime.
The rematch at Dartmouth in February was more of the same. The Big Green again jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead, but Harvard battled back to go up 3-2 in the third period. The difference in the end proved to be Big Green freshman Carly Haggard—now a senior captain and Kazmaier candidate—who assisted on a game-tying goal and scored two more in the final 10 minutes for a 5-3 victory.
Despite those setbacks, Harvard still finished ahead of Dartmouth in the ECAC standings, and the two teams would meet a third time in front of 2,417 fans at Brown’s Meehan Auditorium.
For the third time, the Big Green jumped out to an early lead and found itself ahead 2-0 after two periods. And for the third time, Harvard fought back to tie it. Freshman Kalen Ingram—now a senior captain—scored the game-tying goal as the extra attacker with six seconds left to keep the Crimson alive.
That fleeting glory would only last 14 minutes on the ice. Dartmouth’s Kristina Guarino—now a Dartmouth assistant coach—scored on a hurried shot from outside to clinch a third straight Big Green victory.
Even with the defeat, Harvard was still expecting one of two at-large berths to the four-team national tournament. The Crimson, with a 21-5-3 record, was ahead of Dartmouth, then 21-10, in every selection criteria except head-to-head play. Harvard had destroyed the other at-large contender Minnesota by an 8-3 margin at the Gophers’ own rink.
Nevertheless, when the selection decisions were announced the night following Harvard’s defeat, Minnesota and Dartmouth were the chosen ones. Just like that, Harvard’s title defense was over.
“We’re obviously shocked that we’re not considered one of the four best teams in the country,” said Stone following the announcement. “We certainly feel that we are. That’s what happens when you leave things in other people’s hands.”
Dartmouth, losing few seniors from its 1999-2000 team, was the consensus No. 1 for the duration of the 2000-2001 season. Harvard, losing several seniors and Ruggiero for the season to the U.S. national program, stumbled to an 8-6-0 start, including a fourth straight defeat to Dartmouth by a 5-4 margin in November.
In February, Harvard finally overcame its Big Green demons with a 3-2 victory. Dartmouth seemed headed for a sixth straight victory in the rivalry when Haggard put Dartmouth ahead 2-1 in the third period, but a Crimson goal a minute later gave Harvard new life and Botterill scored the clincher in the final minutes.
“We believed in ourselves,” Stone said after the game. “We know whatever the situation is, we’re going to scratch and claw our way back.”
The rubber match would take place in the ECAC championships in front of a league-record crowd of 2,592. Dartmouth would score three goals on screen shots from the point en route to a 3-1 victory. Both teams still advanced to the Inaugural NCAA Frozen Four.
“We’re very fired up about next week because we’re going to get another chance to play Dartmouth,” Stone said after the game.
Harvard did get another chance against Dartmouth, but it came in the consolation game, not the championship game as Stone had hoped. In the NCAA semifinals, Dartmouth suffered a shocking loss to St. Lawrence, and Harvard fell to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth. In the season finale, a pair of goals by Ingram and the final Harvard goal by all-time leading scorer Tammy Shewchuk ’00-’01 lifted the Crimson to a 3-2 victory.
Back to the Present
With Botterill and Ruggiero both gone for the Salt Lake Olympics, Harvard was an even bigger underdog against the Big Green in 2001-02. Though the Crimson never beat Dartmouth that year, Harvard played the Big Green close in each of three meetings—defeats of 3-2, 3-2, and 4-2. The last Dartmouth victory in the ECAC semifinals was closer than the final score indicated as the Big Green added an empty-netter in the final second.
When the teams met in the first weekend of the present season, there was another role reversal. Dartmouth was missing three of its national team players—Gillian Apps, Meagan Walton, and Cherie Piper—to the Four Nations Cup. Harvard’s national team players—Ruggiero, Botterill and Chu—chose to stay. The result was a 9-2 Harvard thrashing, the biggest Crimson victory over Dartmouth in school history.
Because tomorrow’s game will be the first this season to feature the two teams at full strength, it will be the Crimson freshmen’s first pure taste of the Harvard-Dartmouth rivalry.
“The other players have talked about it,” Chu said. “Over the years it’s a great rivalry that has come up, and I think that’s great for the sport. On Friday, both teams are going to come out flying.”
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at email@example.com.