T.S. Eliot wrote: “April is the cruelest month.” For the Harvard women’s hockey team, it might be December.
That’s because the upcoming month will offer a series of
challenges in the form of six games in 15 days, five of them against
non-conference opponents, with the final clash being the first leg of
the Crimson’s annual home-and-home series with arch-nemesis Dartmouth.
Four of those contests come against teams currently ranked in the top 10, and the combined record of its five foes is 45-19-6.
“We are taking it one game at a time,” Harvard coach Katey
Stone said. “We try to get better and better every day. The main focus
The Crimson, ranked a season-high fifth in the national poll
released yesterday, can solidify its place as a title contender with an
impressive December showing before it takes a 21-day break from
competition for the winter holidays.
Harvard ran up a 9-1-0 record through a season-opening stretch
of 10 conference games, with its only loss at the hands of rival St.
Lawrence on the road. Its run through half of its ECAC slate culminated
with a 5-0 win over Princeton on the road on Saturday. Although the
opening month offered such quality opponents as the Saints and the
Tigers, there were still plenty of games against conference doormats
like Union and Quinnipiac to leave fans and coaches doubting whether
the Crimson’s gaudy record was a true indicator of its performance to
The December gauntlet kicks off this weekend at home with a
visit from western powerhouse Minnesota-Duluth. National champions from
2001-2003, with the last trophy coming at the Crimson’s expense in a
double-overtime title game, the Bulldogs have slipped in recent years.
They still have a bite, however, as showcased in one of the biggest
upsets in collegiate women’s hockey this year, a 2-0 victory of
previously unbeaten and then-No. 1 Wisconsin on Friday night. Harvard
will also tote a four-game losing streak in the rivalry into the Bright
Hockey Center on Friday night, including a pair of 6-1 routs at home
Duluth will be the only team from the west that the Crimson will face all season.
“I don’t know if [playing the Bulldogs] is any more significant
than playing UNH and Dartmouth,” Stone said. “You don’t have a whole
lot of option with the scheduling and you take what you can get.”
Duluth boasts the nation’s deepest and most talented
goaltending corps with senior Riita Schaublin and freshman Kim Martin,
the young hotshot responsible for Sweden’s stunning elimination of the
U.S. in the semifinals of the Olympic tournament back in February and
the shutout of the Badgers this weekend.
“Duluth has a couple of Olympians and is right up there in the
top 10,” said co-captain Julie Chu after Saturday’s game. “We
absolutely need to bring our best game.”
Then it’s on to Storrs, Conn., for a midweek meeting with
surprising UConn (9-4-1) before returning home to face Hockey East
mainstays New Hampshire (13-2-1) and Providence (5-6-3). UNH in
particular has had the Crimson’s number of late, handing it three
losses just last season, including its first shutout in over four years
and its season-ending defeat in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs
“And then it’s Duluth coming into town, and then it’s UNH and
Providence,” Stone said before the season began. “The great thing is
that we have some really exciting home games before Christmas.”
The climax of the grueling month will come in the final game,
the next chapter in the Harvard-Dartmouth hockey rivalry, traditionally
the best-attended and most fiercely-contested set-to in the women’s
ranks. A year ago, the Crimson ran away with the December meeting
between the two teams, but then dropped the second contest to split the
This year, the return of a trio of Olympians to both rosters
has bolstered the two squads, especially on the offensive end, renewing
the title implications of the historic pairing. Harvard fans are
familiar with Chu, junior Caitlin Cahow, and sophomore Sarah
Vaillancourt, but the Big Green’s three stars are equally imposing.
Seniors Cherie Piper, Gillian Apps and freshman Sarah Parsons all have
national team experience, the latter with Team USA and the former two
with Team Canada.
Another factor may be the emergence of freshman netminder Christina Kessler, who shut out Princeton this past weekend.
“She made the saves she needs to make,” Stone said. “You’ll see
[Kessler and sophomore Brittany Martin] in net in the games coming up.”
By the time the Crimson ventures to Dartmouth on Dec. 15, it
may have soared to the top of the polls, dropped several spots, or
remained in the middle of the ranked pack, but it will certainly have a
better sense of where its season is headed.
Eliot was describing April in “The Waste Land.” This December,
the Crimson will get a taste of the land, a survey of the upper echelon
of women’s hockey, and the chance to test its mettle, in a short span,
against some of the nation’s best.
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at email@example.com.