Even at this early juncture, with a full month and eight conference tilts remaining, it's fairly safe to say that Harvard is the class of the ECAC.
With two wins apiece over its traditional neighbors at the top of the conference standings, St. Lawrence and Dartmouth, now in hand, the Crimson (17-1-0, 14-0-0 ECAC) has built itself a comfortable cushion in the scramble for the top seed and home-ice advantage in the season-ending ECAC Tournament.
On Sunday, No. 2 Harvard completed its regular-season sweep of the league’s upper echelon with a tidy 4-0 victory over No. 10 Big Green (11-7-3, 8-5-1) before 1, 489 fans at Bright Hockey Center. Sophomore goalie Christina Kessler anchored the effort with her school-record-setting eighth shutout of the season, breaking the mark set by Ali Boe '06 in the 2003-04 season.
"We're going into every game with an 'X' on our back and coming out of every game, win after win, it just builds confidence," Kessler said.
The Crimson scored at least once in every period and received goals from four different players. Kessler was the constant, racking up 18 mostly benign saves and continuing to cement her status as one of the very best goalies in the nation.
"It's great to know that I'm succeeding, but most of the credit is due to the defense," Kessler said. "Coming out with 15 or 20 saves isn't that hard to do considering they're keeping everything under control for me."
After a number of good scoring chances, Harvard broke through against Dartmouth netminder Mariel Lacina late in the first period. Junior Sarah Wilson found Liza Ryabkina in the slot on the left side and the freshman lifted a shot over Lacina's glove for the fifth goal of her rookie season. Lacina, who finished with 39 stops, 16 of them in the opening frame, got the start in lieu of regular Big Green goalie Carli Clemis and saw her goals-against average rise from a sparkling 0.60 to a more pedestrian 1.39.
"She came up with some huge saves," Crimson coach Katey Stone said of Lacina. "The first period it was continuous. We could have had four goals in the first period."
Sophomore defender Cori Bassett doubled Harvard's lead at the 7:08 mark of the second period. Taking a pass from Ryabkina at center ice just inside the blue line, Bassett uncorked a screaming slapshot that nicked the crossbar and dropped over the goal line.
The Crimson's top-rated power play finally got on the board after four unsuccessful opportunities with 6:08 left in the game. Sophomore Kathryn Farni's shot was saved by Lacina, but rebounded into the crease, where junior Jenny Brine battled for control until tri-captain Caitlin Cahow swooped in and deposited her 10th goal of the season. Cahow now ranks third in the country with eight power-play goals. Wilson rounded out the scoring with a goal with 3:40 left.
Next up for Harvard is a Friday matchup at Brown and a Saturday afternoon clash with Yale at Bright. The ECAC office rescheduled the former for the Bears’ Meehan Auditorium to make up for the moving of the teams’ November meeting from Providence to Cambridge due to rink malfunctions at Meehan.
Asked her feelings about the location change, a diplomatic Stone stuck to the facts: "We're going down to play Brown. It's a game against Brown."
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.