With that frank and honest statement, Harvard women’s hockey coach Katey Stone put the team’s outlook into perspective at the beginning of the season.
Make no mistake, Harvard is a very good hockey team. But after dropping four straight contests to three of the top four teams in the nation, the Crimson has not yet proved it belongs in the tier of greatness. This weekend, however, has helped teach the team what it will take to do so.
For three periods, its defense kept Harvard in the game with Minnesota-Duluth (UMD). But a few mental lapses at the defensive end sank the ship and led to another Harvard loss on Sunday.
The most crucial of those mental lapses occurred at 14:34 in the third period when, while playing 4-on-4, Harvard got caught looking for a breakaway on offense before solidifying its defense and gaining control of the puck. The mistake led to a game-tying goal by UMD’s Jessica Koizumi and prevented the Crimson from walking away with a 2-1 victory over the third-best team in the nation.
Nevertheless, the team’s performance was a drastic improvement from one day earlier in terms of defense and goaltending.
Stone switched up the lines once again in an attempt to breathe new life into the lineup. Tri-captains Nicole Corriero and Julie Chu reunited on the first line, joined by junior Carrie Schroyer to add quickness to Harvard’s most potent offensive weapons.
Freshman Sarah Vaillancourt was matched with junior Jennifer Raimondi and sophomore Jennifer Sifers to create more plays for the wingers, with mixed results—the line combined for three shots—while sophomore Katie Johnston played on the third line with Liza Solley and Kat Sweet, maintaining the speed that could have been lost in Schroyer’s shift to the first line.
Stone was also not afraid to switch the lines up throughout the game, particularly on special teams, where the positive results were most obvious. Harvard was 2-of-7 on the power play—improved from 1-of-9 the day before—while allowing no power play goals on six UMD tries, as compared to two allowed on the same number of penalty kills Saturday. Harvard also had an impressive 5-on-3 penalty kill with about 12 minutes left in the second period.
For the most part the changes worked, though Harvard was narrowly outshot by the Bulldogs 25-24. While the offensive production doesn’t look as good on paper as Saturday’s game, when the Crimson outshot UMD 46-23, Harvard played more aggressively and kept the puck pinned in UMD’s zone during numerous intervals, making the Crimson look dominant for stretches at a time. Commitment to defense created the impressive play of the Crimson.
“A lot of times they like to put Oullette back on their defensive side, and once they win it back she just wields with the puck,” Chu said. “When we give them too much space to wheel it and build up momentum, that’s when they can beat us wide. That’s when they can create a little opportunity. We were just having our D meet them a little higher as opposed to having them drive them right back and then letting them get into the zone uncontested but stopping them in the neutral zone.”
Still, the Bulldogs—due in large part to lapses in focus on part of the Crimson— found ways to fast break on Harvard such as the 2-on-2 rush that resulted in UMD’s game-winning goal.
“It seems to be the general trend where we’re dominating games then we’re kind of breaking down defensively and the other team is capitalizing on our mistakes,” Corriero said.
The other huge improvement from one game to the next was goaltending, which will be crucial if the Crimson have any hopes of breaking into that top tier of teams.
After looking downright dejected on the bench Saturday after being pulled for allowing four goals, Boe looked like her former self yesterday, even adding more fluidity to her style of play.
“She played really well today. She had an attitude and an edge,” Stone said. “She answered the call today. She gave us the type of performance I expected from her.”
And solid goaltending, combined with a strong and focused defense, will prevent goals like the two that put UMD back into the hockey game and then put the Bulldogs ahead.
“D-zone is not just about defense, it’s not just about goalies,” Corriero said. “It’s about all six people on the ice. I think we’re a very offensively minded team right now and we’re trying to focus too much on scoring. We need to take care of our D-zone first.”
Corriero’s assessment of the team had an experienced point of view that comes from four years of Harvard hockey.
“We don’t have someone like Angela who can save everybody’s butts when you kind of screw up so everybody’s got to step up. It’s a full effort, not just one or two people on the ice.”
True as this may be, Harvard has proven it has the tools necessary to put something great together. The Crimson can only hope learning from the mistakes of a four-game skid will do the trick.
—Staff writer John R. Hein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.