The Crimson (9-0-0, 9-0-0 ECAC), currently trailing UNH in the national poll, is set for a weekend of non-league action against No. 10 UConn (11-3-1, 4-2-1 Hockey East) at Bright Hockey Arena tonight at 7 p.m. and Providence (6-6-2, 4-2-1) Saturday night in Providence, R.I.
But what most Crimson skaters can taste right now is not the prospect of a No. 1 ranking, but rather, a bitter loss to the Huskies suffered last year on the heels of an eight game winning streak.
Unranked UConn stunned then fourth-ranked Harvard in a 3-2 win, with the game-winning goal coming with just 3:14 left to play. The Huskies never trailed in the game and delivered the Crimson only their second loss of the year.
“We definitely have a very sharp memory of the UConn game,” said senior co-captain Caitlin Cahow. “I don’t think we gave them our best effort last year and are expecting to do more this time around.”
And with a spotless 9-0-0 record—the only unbeaten, untied record in women’s hockey—Harvard has even more incentive to evade another loss to the Huskies.
Gone from last year’s roster is a talented senior class, which included two-time Olympian Julie Chu and co-captain Jennifer Sifers.
But returning players and rookies alike have stepped up to get the Crimson off to one of its most successful starts in program history.
Junior Sarah Vaillancourt leads the team with 20 points recorded through nine games and was recently named ECAC Hockey Player of the Week for Harvard to commanding wins over No. 8 Dartmouth, Rensselaer and Union this past week.
Though the Crimson’s offensive attack so far has been a well-balanced one, as 10 different players have contributed to the team’s 34 goals this season. Notably, rookies Anna McDonald, Liza Ryabkina, Katherine Chute, Kate Buesser, and Deborah Conway scored 13 of those goals.
And the Crimson defense, under Cahow’s leadership, has established itself as one of the most oppressive in the country. Harvard currently leads the nation in scoring defense with 0.89 goals allowed per game and in power play efficiency with a 0.333 average on the kill.
Despite its perfect record, the Crimson had to come from behind to defeat Quinnipiac and Princeton in its opening two games of the season—a fact that Vaillancourt alluded to when discussing her team’s mental preparation for this weekend’s match up against UConn.
“Our first two games of the season we were losing both of them and still came back strong and won,” she said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we are so strong mentally.”
The Huskies have also jumped out to a great start this season and should provide a formidable challenge for the Crimson. UConn currently sits tied for second with Providence and Boston College in a strong Hockey East League that includes the nation’s No. 1 UNH Wildcats.
“We know they are a good team and we have to take them seriously,” Vaillancourt said. “For the past three years we’ve had trouble against them but we have a lot more confidence in our team this year.”
UConn’s Dominique Thibault leads both her team and the Hockey East with 24 points. The sophomore recorded one of three goals scored against Harvard in last year’s upset victory.
In the Providence Friars, the Crimson has an opponent that, at 6-6-2, is not having one of its best seasons but one that always poses a threat. Harvard holds the edge in recent meetings but trails 12-22-3 in a series history against Providence that dates back to 1985.
“Providence is historically a great hockey powerhouse and it’s always a good match up,” Cahow said. “They are always playing to win and never quit.”
The Friars are led by senior defenseman Kathleen Smith who has 11 points through 14 games.
While Harvard faces two Hockey East opponents this weekend, UNH is set for two games against No. 6 Mercyhurst in its own slate of non-league play—making Monday’s reveal of the nation’s No. 1 even more hard to predict.
But as Cahow notes, the focus for the Crimson, as it has been all season, is on the hockey, and not on the rankings.
“Once you start thinking about rankings you’re thinking about the wrong thing in my mind,” she said.
—Staff writer Rebecca A. Compton can be reached at email@example.com.