With its loss at No. 2 New Hampshire on Friday night, the No. 1 Harvard women’s hockey team suffered its first blemish of the season.
The Crimson entered the contest with a perfect 11-0-0 record and the nation’s longest winning streak. It was the longest streak in Harvard women’s hockey history since the 2003-04 squad won its first 11 contests and went undefeated through its first 14 games en route to the NCAA title game.
“The monkey is off our back now about being undefeated,” tri-captain Caitlin Cahow said. “When you’re in that situation, you sometimes think more about the win-loss column than about how you are playing.”
But one record that wasn’t quite as spotless when the team took the ice on Friday night was the Crimson’s recent record against the Wildcats. After the loss, Harvard is now winless against UNH in its last six games.
The Crimson’s last triumph over the Wildcats was an easy 4-0 win at Bright Hockey Center on Dec. 9, 2003, in UNH coach Brian McCloskey’s first season. Harvard and then-captain Angela Ruggiero outshot New Hampshire, 28-6, in the blowout.
But the 2004-05 season produced a 2-1 loss to UNH in Durham, N.H, and the 2005-06 yielded three more losses to the rapidly improving Wildcats.
New Hampshire dealt the Crimson its first shutout in over four years in a 3-0 win at Bright Hockey Center in December 2005, and the Wildcats ran away from an inexperienced Harvard squad in the third period of a 5-1 victory in Durham the following month.
The two New England foes returned to the Whittemore Center when No. 8 Harvard drew top-ranked UNH in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats overmatched the Crimson—minus its three Olympians—in a 3-1 triumph.
Last year, then-No. 4 Harvard squandered a 3-1 third-period lead to then-No. 3 UNH in a 3-3 tie at Bright Hockey Center on Dec. 8.
For Harvard, then, a victory over the Wildcats this past Friday night would have been not only an affirmation of its No. 1 rank but also revenge for its recent struggles against UNH, coach Katey Stone’s alma mater.
Considering that the Wildcats dominated statistically in many of these prior losses, what sticks out from Friday’s game is a shot count of 23-12 in Harvard’s favor.
“We outshot them, 2-1, at the end of the game,” Cahow said. “It doesn’t happen very often that a team does that and loses, 4-1.”
Harvard hurt itself by surrendering a power-play goal and giving up the three breakaways that led to Wildcat scores. Moreover, the Crimson offensive attack was off the mark for most of the night.
“We weren’t crashing for rebounds and placing shots as well as we could have,” Cahow said.
Another factor in Harvard’s four-year rut versus UNH has been the team’s comfort, or lack thereof, playing on the Wildcats’ Olympic-sized rink at the Whittemore Center.
At 200 by 100 feet, the rink is one of only six Olympic-sized rinks in the nation and caters well to UNH’s speedy teams. Of the teams’ last six clashes, all four that were played in Durham were Wildcats wins.
But this year’s Crimson squad is fast in its own right, and, if anything, should have benefited from the extra ice.
“Certainly, there is a big difference between an Olympic-sized sheet of ice and the majority of college rinks,” Stone said. “We could have used it to our advantage more, but it just wasn’t our night.”
Harvard will not face UNH again in the regular season. But should both teams continue to play at a high level, a meeting in the NCAA Tournament is certainly a possibility.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” Cahow said after Friday’s loss, “but we are certainly aware that we can win next time around.”
—Staff writer Rebecca A. Compton can be reached at email@example.com.