Despite being a defenseman, junior Caitlin Cahow continues to find the back of the net with the puck, scoring once in both of the Crimson’s contests this weekend to bring her season total to six.
When the No. 4 Harvard women’s hockey team scored its first goal off the back of No. 3 New Hampshire (UNH) goalie Melissa Bourdon, it set the stage for a bizarre night on Friday.
Later, the Wildcats scored on a strange deflection, and the Crimson expanded its lead during a period in which it was outshot 16 to 5. When the final whistle blew, sophomore forward Sarah Vaillancourt was called for a delayed penalty, but the game was already over, a 3-3 tie between two of the nation’s top teams.
“You only get to see them once, so there is a lot at stake,” UNH coach Brian McCloskey said.
Harvard jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on the Wildcats (14-2-2) at Bright Hockey Center, but UNH came roaring back to tie it in the third period on two goals by Jennifer Hitchcock.
“I don’t think it slipped away,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We made a mental mistake down the stretch of the game on the bench and then they capitalized on the power play. I don’t think anything slipped away. I think a good team came back and tied it up.”
The game-tying goal came with just more than four minutes left in the game, and though it was not the most forceful of scores, it involved the Wildcats’ big guns.
While on the power play—after a mental mistake by the Crimson resulted in a penalty for too many men on the ice—New Hampshire passed the puck around, then shot it toward net. Harvard’s Christina Kessler, who had 33 saves overall, was screened from seeing the puck, which slipped past her for Hitchcock’s second goal of the game. Martine Garland and Sadie Wright-Ward got their 14th and 15th assists on the play.
“I was screened,” Kessler said. “I caught a glimpse of it, but it wasn’t enough to keep it from going in.”
Although the final period saw a push from UNH, a quick Crimson start had given Harvard the early pole position.
By the 16-minute mark in the first period, Harvard had a 2-0 advantage that could easily have been greater but for a number of missed chances.
Senior forward Liza Solley led off the scoring with her sixth goal of the season on an unusual bounce of the puck. She skated in on the Wildcats’ net on a breakaway and got off a good shot—one of the Crimson’s first of the game—at Bourdon, who deflected the puck into the air. Solley and her defender crashed in as the puck landed on the goalie’s back, then rolled off and across the line for a score.
Just four minutes later, on a 2-on-1 rush, co-captain Julie Chu made a crisp pass to Vaillancourt, who crossed in front of Bourdon, moving left to right. Vaillancourt then carried the puck around the netminder’s left leg and swept it into the net for the two-goal lead.
“We were definitely disappointed with our efforts on Tuesday [in a loss to UConn],” Chu said. “Our focus on this game was to put the effort in. Everything starts from that and we didn’t have to be fancy. We didn’t have to focus on much else but going out there and letting our legs do the work.”
Chu was returning from a high ankle injury that she suffered a week ago and said she felt about “70 percent, 60-70, who knows?”
UNH salvaged the period, to a degree, with just more than two minutes left on what Kessler called “a fluke goal.”
Sam Faber got the puck after junior defender Caitlin Cahow bumbled a chance to keep it in the Crimson’s offensive zone.
Faber took on sophomore defender Kati Vaughn on a 2-on-1. Faber’s shot deflected off Vaughn and caught Kessler unable to make the adjustment.
“Our defensemen played it really well,” Chu said. “We are going to get into situations when you play aggressively that you give up 2-on-1’s or odd-man rushes at times. It was unlucky when she made a good step on the play. It redirected off her stick.”
From the first intermission until overtime, the Wildcats took control for large stretches at a time. They peppered Kessler with 25 shots in those two periods, versus Harvard’s nine on Bourdon. They also broke through on their final power play—the fifth of the game for UNH.
Although the Wildcats could be happy that their effort paid off with a tie, Kessler and the Crimson successfully frustrated one of the nation’s best teams in an impressive way in the second period. UNH outshot Harvard, took one penalty, and generally seemed to outplay its counterpart on the ice.
Nevertheless, Cahow’s fifth goal of the season on the Crimson’s lone power play meant that the Wildcats left the ice at the second intermission with a larger deficit.
“Probably the most disheartening thing for us was that we outshot them 16-4, we dominated the second period, and we come out and instead of being down 2-1, we’re down 3-1,” McCloskey said. “We put a lot of pressure on their defense, which was our game-plan.”
In the third period, UNH shut down the Crimson offense, holding it to four shots and none on its three power plays, where Harvard has been most prolific all season.
Overtime was the only period in which Harvard outshot the Wildcats.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at email@example.com.