The Harvard women’s hockey team peppered McGill goaltender Charline Labonte, who also plays for Team Canada.
With two newcomers on the top line and junior Sarah Vaillancourt taking over as the leader of the Harvard women’s hockey team’s offense, the No. 6 Crimson proved its mettle this weekend against McGill’s Charline Labonte, whom Harvard coach Katey Stone called “one of the best goaltenders in the world.”
The Crimson swept a two-game exhibition series at the Bright Hockey Center against Labonte—a goalie on the Canadian national team—and the Martlets, earning a 3-2 victory in Friday’s opener and winning Saturday’s game by a score of 5-3.
Harvard’s new starting line, comprised of Vaillancourt, freshman Liza Ryabkina, and sophomore Anna McDonald—a transfer from Boston College—showed off some flashy skills and made up for an occasionally lackluster defensive effort by peppering Labonte with shots and combining for 13 points over the weekend.
“Everything we wanted to get out of the weekend we did,” Stone said. “These are good games to have to figure out how to win down the stretch.”
HARVARD 5, MCGILL 3
After the teams traded goals for the first two periods, Vaillancourt put away what would turn out to be the game-winner just over three minutes into the third. Vaillancourt received a pass from McDonald and charged the net, juking Labonte and depositing the puck in the back of the net to give the Crimson a 4-2 lead.
The Martlets continued to threaten and cut the Harvard lead in half when defenseman Jasmine Sheehan caught the defense out of position and buried a rebound.
But with just under four minutes remaining in the game, Ryabkina gave Harvard some insurance when she took a pass from McDonald and flicked the puck high over Labonte into the net.
The goal capped off an impressive debut by Ryabkina, who posted two scores in the game and three on the weekend. Afterwards, the Ukranian native gave much of the credit for her performance to her linemates.
“Sarah and Anna are just amazing players who I love playing with,” she said. “The only time I’ve played that level of hockey is when I played with guys back in the Ukraine.”
Junior Jenny Brine also scored for Harvard, putting away her own rebound in the first period to even the score at 1.
McGill scored again in the second before the Crimson rattled off three straight goals to take the lead for good.
HARVARD 3, MCGILL 2
With a three-goal lead in hand midway through the second period of Friday’s game, the Crimson appeared to be on its way to an easy rout. But the Martlets made it interesting, taking advantage of what Stone called a “lack of intensity” from Harvard in the game’s late stages.
“The difference in score could have been a bit different,” Stone said. “I think the things that trouble me are how the goals that were scored on our side materialized—bad changes, somebody not being able to understand the defensive zone coverage.
“Those are young mistakes and we don’t want to make too many of those young mistakes or we won’t be able to recover.”
McGill cut the lead to two just under 15 minutes into the second period, when Rebecca Martindale stole the puck in front of the Crimson net and put it past sophomore goalie Christina Kessler.
In the third, the Martlets struck again on a Vanessa Davidson goal.
McGill continued to dominate possession in the third period, and seemed poised to tie the game on several occasions. But Harvard freshman goalie Kylie Stephens, who came in for the third quarter of both games, made some outstanding saves to preserve the Crimson’s lead.
Stephens’ performance thrust her into the middle of a three-way conversation at goalie, where before it appeared that only Kessler and junior Brittany Martin were competing for the starting spot.
“I was most impressed with Kylie Stephens’ performance out of all the three goaltenders,” Stone said. “I think our other two goalies need to focus and get a little sharper. And that is a challenge.”
Harvard jumped out to its 3-0 lead thanks to a shooting barrage in the early going. Putting up 26 shots in the first two periods, the Harvard offense proved to be too much for Labonte. After a goal off of a deflection by Ryabkina in the first period, Vaillancourt struck twice in the second.
She displayed some flair on her final goal, sending a McGill defender to the ice with a deke and then slipping the puck past Labonte.
—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at email@example.com.