The presence of an Olympic women’s hockey gold medalist on the Bright Center ice is hardly an uncommon phenomenon. So what is different about freshman Cherie Piper? She doesn’t play for Harvard.
For the first time in three years, an Olympic gold medalist that does not wear a Crimson uniform will grace Harvard’s home ice. Tonight, Piper suits up for No. 4 Dartmouth in her first career meeting against the No. 1 Crimson at 7 p.m.
Piper was a Canadian teammate of Harvard captain Jennifer Botterill at last year’s Olympics. Initially an alternate, she was the final addition to the Olympic roster. Piper made the most of her promotion, setting up Canada’s crucial first goal just 1:48 into the gold medal game against the U.S. Though this is Piper’s first year playing college hockey, she has plenty of experience, having turned 21 before ever suiting up for the Big Green.
Both Piper and freshman Gillian Apps, one of Canada’s last Olympic cuts, were playing with their national programs during the first weekend of the season in November, when the Crimson slaughtered Dartmouth by a record 9-2 margin. Harvard (17-1, 7-0 ECAC) knows that three months later, this is going to be an entirely different matchup—not just because Piper and Apps are now playing for Dartmouth (16-5, 8-2), but also because both teams have improved immensely over the course of the season.
“When we meet this time, it doesn’t matter what happened in the last game,” said Harvard freshman Julie Chu, a member of the U.S. team that lost to Canada in Salt Lake City. “It’s two new teams playing each other as far as I’m concerned.”
Dartmouth began the season 11-5, placing itself a notch below Harvard, No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 3 Minnesota in the rankings. The Big Green struggled not only with national team absences but also with injuries. A broken arm by defenseman Alana BreMiller early in the season forced coach Judy Oberting to move Piper back to the blue line.
“Dartmouth certainly had some very unfortunate injuries and that’s tough, but they’ve persevered through those injuries, and similar to us, as the season goes on, they’ve gelled together,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “They’ve taken their lumps a little bit but they’re probably a lot better for them.”
Oberting felt she finally had a full team back when the Big Green hosted Minnesota on Jan. 17. With BreMiller in uniform again, Piper was back at forward. Feeling more at home on the offensive, Piper had a breakout game, leading Dartmouth to a 6-3 victory. She showcased her lightning quick shot with a blast from just inside the blueline for Dartmouth’s second goal. She later set up the eventual game winner and added an empty-net clincher.
But true to form for Dartmouth this year, there was yet another injury. Meagan Walton, one of the Big Green’s Canadian national team players, broke her ankle and will be lost for the year.
Nevertheless, Dartmouth is as healthy as it will be all season tonight. Harvard is eager to face Dartmouth with Apps and Piper in the lineup for the first time.
“[Apps and Piper] have a huge impact,” Botterill said. “It’s important for us to respect them and realize that they’re great players, but I think that we’re looking forward to it because we know it’s going to be an even better hockey game.”
Oberting says the players who were present for that 9-2 defeat definitely have something to prove tonight.
The Crimson knows better than to underestimate the new-and-improved Big Green given the Big Green’s recent success.
“[Piper] is someone we’re definitely looking to play hard against, but that’s the same with the rest of the team,” Chu said of Dartmouth’s roster, which includes Amy Caitlin, the twin sister of Harvard senior winger Tracy. “They have a strong squad, from their ‘D’ right through to their forwards.”
In the past, Dartmouth has been recognized for its depth at forward, but not for its individual talent. This year, the talent level is higher while the depth has been maintained.
“No matter who we come against, our team has four solid lines and everyone contributes,” Piper said following the Minnesota victory. “That’s a very positive sign. If you look at the other top four teams, they have two or three solid lines but as a whole team they’re not complete.”
Yet Harvard’s three lines have consistently been more productive than Dartmouth’s four.
Beyond Botterill and Chu on the first line, Harvard’s second line features two of top three returning scorers in the nation from last season in captain Kalen Ingram and sophomore Nicole Corriero. Harvard’s third line could be the first line for many Division I teams.
“I think we match up well with [Dartmouth],” Stone said. “We’re looking forward to it and we’re prepared.”
On the blue line, Dartmouth’s forces received a considerable boost when defenseman Louise Pietrangelo chose not to play with the Canadian Under-22 team this weekend. Pietrangelo has created scoring opportunities against Harvard in past seasons, but she was a nonfactor in the November meeting.
The Crimson is far more experienced than Dartmouth in back with leadership from seniors Pamela Van Reesema, captain Jamie Hagerman, and captain Angela Ruggiero. No defenseman in the country is close to Ruggiero in terms of offensive skills—she’s scored only two fewer goals than all of Harvard’s opponents combined this entire season.
While Harvard’s penalty kill is tops in the nation, Dartmouth’s has been an area of weakness. The Big Green gave up three power play goals in each of its games against Harvard and Minnesota.
Dartmouth has improved in that area, killing 23 of its last 24 penalties, but Oberting knows her team can’t afford to take its typical 14 penalty minutes per game against Harvard’s top-ranked power play.
“We know it’ll be a better game this time around,” Oberting said.
The Crimson feels the same way.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” Botterill said. “We played really well when we played last time, but we know this a whole different setting. Both of us have improved since that point in the season so it should make for a great game.”
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at email@example.com.