After suffering key losses to the defensive core of last year’s national runner-up team, Harvard has talked all year about the importance of incorporating the newer players into key role players on the defensive end this season.
“We are often reminded in the locker room that ‘offense wins games; defense wins championships,’” freshman Caitlin Cahow said. “That is the attitude that we try to incorporate into our game plan because that is where we want to be headed at this point in the season.”
With the Crimson’s four-game shutout streak to open the season and a 1.23 goals against average to date, it’s fair to say the team has backed up its words with its play.
Last year’s defense had two solid veterans in Jamie Hagerman ’03 and Pamela Van Reesema ’03. This year, with injuries to sophomore Jaclyn Pituschka and freshman Lindsay Weaver—both of whom have seen considerable playing time this year—and a number of other young faces seeing increasingly more action, nothing was certain on defense.
“We’ve really had to focus on the little things this year—clearing rebounds, effectively tying up opponents in front of the net, having outlet passes and supporting the puck, pinning the puck carrier against the boards, and making quick, effective passes,” junior Ashley Banfield said.
Coming into this season, the defense had two strong anchors in co-captain and Olympian Angela Ruggiero and Banfield, but was still in questionable concerning its depth.
Additionally, the graduation of a strong class of offensive threats meant many of Harvard’s games this year would be much closer—requiring the defense to step up its play.
“We know we’re not going to be winning games 10-0,” Banfield said. “We need to shut teams down and that’s the bottom line. Solid defense isn’t glorious like scoring a game-winning goal, but it’s what allows that game-winning goal to be scored and that’s the mentality that our entire team buys into.”
The season began on a very optimistic note as Harvard shut down Union, Providence and Niagara, not allowing a goal in 250 minutes of action.
“Not only was it a source of confidence,” Banfield said. “But also a source of pride.”
The biggest snag of the season to date came in Harvard’s only two losses, reflecting the key role that the unit plays for Harvard.
In the Crimson’s tightly contested 2-1 loss to Dartmouth, a fluke goal coming off of a mishandled puck started the trouble.
Following the break in play for exam period, Harvard’s defense came out slow against Princeton and gave up a season high six goals—three more then in any other contest this year. Adding to the trouble was Pitushka’s continued absence due to injury, as well as a concussion to Weaver.
Cahow stepped into this void and the defense got right back on track.
Over the next five games, the Crimson gave up a meager average of one goal for each contest, winning four of those contests decisively. The one hiccup came against Colgate when Boe and the Harvard defensemen gave up three goals and had to rely on a Ruggiero score with just over two minutes left to play.