Game of the Year: Duluth Wins National Title in 2OTs

Harvard coach Katey Stone and her Minnesota-Duluth counterpart Shannon Miller looked through the stands of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center on March 23 and saw a dream had come true. A sellout crowd of 5,167 had come to watch an NCAA women’s hockey championship game, and thousands more would be watching on television. When the two coaches met for a pregame parley, Miller uttered an appropriate challenge for the evening.

“Let’s just put on a show, and raise the bar,” she said.

Did they ever. The game had everything the spectators could have asked for—two overtimes, 84 minutes, 85 shots, end-to-end action and one perfect shot to end it all. But the devastating reality for Harvard was that that shot came off the stick of Duluth’s Nora Tallus.

“I sit here very sad but also very proud,” Stone said shortly after Harvard’s 4-3 loss. “Obviously we did everything we could to try to win this game and we came up just a little short. They beat us with an absolutely perfect shot.”

When Tallus fired the final shot, courtesy of a stunning behind-the-back pass by Duluth senior Erika Holst, the Crimson fought valiantly to block it. Next year’s two captains, Lauren McAuliffe and Angela Ruggiero, each slid across the slot just a moment too late from opposite sides, leaving the puck free to find its way off the right post.

The defeat was particularly frustrating for Ruggiero. She had been whistled for a ten-minute misconduct in the third period. Then, 30 seconds into the second overtime, a quick whistle denied Ruggiero the chance to hit a loose puck from the grasps of Duluth goaltender Patricia Sautter.

On the other end, Harvard junior goaltender Jessica Ruddock played the game of her life.

“She could only do so much. We had to put one in the net,” Ruggiero said. “After the game, it was hard to congratulate her.”

The Duluth crowd did not hesitate in showing its respect by thundering with applause when Ruddock’s name was announced in postgame ceremonies.

“The crowd was tremendous, and so fair in many ways, and very supportive of all of our great plays as well as Duluth’s,” Stone said.

Three months later, the Crimson remains proud of its effort. The game began showing signs that it would be a classic when Harvard came back from a 2-0 first-period deficit in the first 44 seconds of the second period, thanks to goals from captain Jennifer Botterill and McAuliffe. Sophomore Nicole Corriero briefly gave Harvard the lead in the second period.

“When I look back at that game, there are things I remember,” Botterill said. “I think back to the bench during the game and in the locker room in between periods. You look around, there were just smiles on people’s faces, saying this is what it’s all about. These are the kind of games you just love to be a part of. It was a great few hours. How much fun to play in front of that packed house.”

For the younger players on the team, it was a trial-by-fire. Freshman Jennifer Raimondi earned some playing time with the first line late in the game and she twice earned good looks at the net. She wants to be right back in that position next season.

“I know for myself, I gained so much experience playing in such pressure-packed games and the tournament gave me a taste of what it means to play at the top,” Raimondi said. “It has given me that little extra fire and I know I want to be right back there next year.”

Stone too has every intention of getting back to the 2004 Frozen Four in Providence. And, after the show put on in Duluth, she is optimistic of getting thousands more fans there as well. It’s another dream, one that she shared with the NCAA women’s hockey committee chair Carolyn Campbell-McGovern after the Duluth defeat.

“She promised me she’d put 12,000 people into the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence next year,” Stone said. “I’m gonna hold her to it.”

—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at deremer@post.harvard.edu.

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