In its rematch against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth yesterday, No. 5 Harvard saw a promising afternoon and a would-be triumph sour into the most recent defeat in its four-game losing streak.
The Crimson (6-5-1, 6-1-0 ECAC) enjoyed two one-goal advantages but squandered them both in a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to the Bulldogs (11-1-2, 9-1-2 WCHA ). Duluth tied the game with under six minutes remaining and forced home the winning tally with 1:48 left in the sudden-death period. It was Harvard’s second loss in as many days to the WCHA powerhouse, but the similarities between the two contests end there.
Goalie Ali Boe, back in the cage after being pulled the previous day, and the entire defensive unit made great strides in shoring up the back line.
“[Boe] played well. She played really well,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “She had a presence back there and an attitude.”
Meanwhile, the offense that, on Saturday, peppered unshakable Bulldogs keeper Riitta Schaublin with a steady stream of strikes and forced her to make repeated dazzling saves applied less pressure to a clearly shakier Schaublin yesterday.
All of this made for a slower, more physical affair that ultimately played to Duluth’s strengths. The Bulldogs roster boasts three starters taller than the Crimson’s tallest member, and the hard hits and grinding play took its toll on the Harvard skaters late in the game.
“They’re big. They’re strong,” Stone said. “It’s much more physical in the WCHA, due to the size.”
Desperately clinging to a tenuous 2-1 lead throughout the third period, the Crimson could not hold on quite long enough. Offsetting high-sticking calls with 6:54 to go in the game produced a 4-on-4 situation, opening up the ice for a pair of Duluth’s main offensive weapons: speedy winger Jessica Koizumi and captain Caroline Ouellette. After pushing a shot wide of Boe, Ouellette soon regained the puck and fed Koizumi for the equalizer top shelf.
Ouellette provided the game-winner all by herself.
After sophomore Katie Johnston failed to draw a penalty when it appeared she was tripped, Ouellette gathered the free puck and outraced the Harvard defense down the ice to jam a squirming puck past the prone Boe.
For several seconds it was unclear whether or not the puck had indeed crossed the line, but the jubilant Bulldogs mobbing Ouellette and Crimson skaters hanging their heads soon informed the crowd of the result.
“It’s how you respond,” Stone said. “I thought we responded tremendously well from yesterday to today.”
It was a difficult defeat to swallow for Harvard, which led for much of the game.
Senior defenseman Ashley Banfield commenced the scoring when she set up on the right post and put a one-timer past Schaublin off a deft feed from freshman Sarah Vaillancourt.
Koizumi tied it at 1-1 early in the second period, but offensive linchpin Nicole Corriero put the Crimson back on top with the finishing touches on a vivid display of team skill. Vaillancourt freed the puck at the Harvard end to junior Julie Chu, who fed it ahead to Correiro off the boards on the left side. Corriero took off down the wing, cutting right at the last minute and threading a shot into the top right corner.
For each scoring opportunity the Crimson converted, there were several it failed to bang home.
Centering passes skidded towards the top of the crease and Schaublin didn’t corral many of her rebounds, but each time a Harvard forward couldn’t get to the puck in time.
By the same token, the Crimson defensemen, Banfield and sophomore Caitlin Cahow especially, kept the front of net less busy for Boe, who racked up 22 saves.
Now finished with its western visitors, the Crimson will turn its attention to its eastern rivals and draw solace from the lessons it learned playing the best of the best.
“We can go 10-0 against teams that won’t get a chance to go the Frozen Four,” Chu said. “It’s fun but at the same time we don’t work towards that. We work towards playing these great games, and they’ve been battles of a game. And as much as it is disappointing, I think there’s a lot to take away from it, a lot we can learn about the team.”