W. Hockey Controls Its Fate in UMD Duel
And while there are no guarantees, the Harvard women’s hockey team might be comforted to know that its fate is still in its hands. It all starts with a twin bill this weekend.
The Crimson enters this weekend’s games against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) after dropping consecutive losses to No. 1 Minnesota and then-No. 5 Wisconsin.
These games, like the previous two, are without a doubt must-see events—especially considering the rivalry between the two teams.
It was only about 20 months ago that the Bulldogs ended a 3-3 double-overtime stalemate with a near perfect shot to beat the Crimson 4-3 and squelch Harvard’s quest for the 2003 National Championship.
That game, now the stuff of hockey lore, drew a sellout crowd of 5,167 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC)—a far cry from the barely 500 Harvard drew against the No. 1 team in the nation when the Gophers came to town over Thanksgiving break. On the other hand, one must remember that the game last weekend took place when nearly all of the student body had left town.
Scheduling works in favor of Harvard hockey fans this weekend. This will also mark only the second time in four years that the Bulldogs visit Bright Hockey Center—as compared to the six times the Crimson has headed north by northwest to play at Duluth—thus giving Harvard hockey fans a rare glimpse of the three-time national champions.
But the fans will be one of the last things on the team’s mind when the Bulldogs come to town. Combine Harvard’s history with UMD with the team’s hunger to win after consecutive losses, and this weekend has all the ingredients for a recipe of redemption or further dejection.
The importance of this homestand should not be understated. The Crimson is looking for a big win against a top nationally ranked team. Sure, Harvard has beaten ranked teams this season, topping No. 6 St. Lawrence 5-1 and No. 8 Brown 7-3 only a few weeks ago.
But Harvard wants to be able to beat a top-four team for a change, not just hang tough against one. While the Crimson is undoubtedly still one of the top teams in the nation, the distinction loses its luster when you can’t beat any one of the other top teams.
But these games mean more than pride for Harvard—this weekend’s match-up will have far-reaching playoff implications.
If Harvard cannot beat UMD in at least one of this weekend’s games, it’s all but certain that the WCHA will have at least three of the top four teams in this year’s expanded Frozen Eight playoffs. While Harvard is by no means in danger of not finishing in the top eight—provided the team stays healthy and barring a major unforeseen meltdown of some kind—the Crimson is in danger of not qualifying for home-ice advantage come playoff time. And if Harvard doesn’t crack into the top four, they are guaranteed to play one of the top 4 teams in the nation in the first round of the playoffs.
Harvard only has four more chances to prove it deserves to be counted in the top four teams in the country. Two of those games come this weekend. And with a 6-5-1 record, the room for improvement would be slim. To top it off, the remaining two games are against No. 2 Dartmouth, currently sitting atop to ECAC with a 9-0-0 record.
But the picture won’t necessarily be so dark; Harvard could come away with a pair of wins and steer the ship in the right direction.
And on the bright side of things, the Crimson has control of the helm.
—Staff writer John R. Hein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.