The No. 6 Harvard women’s hockey team has come a long way from 2-3-0.
With its early season struggles placed firmly in the past, the Crimson (7-3-2, 6-3-0 ECAC) is riding an eight-game streak without a loss, despite a challenging stretch of contests that has included a win and a tie against No. 2 Minnesota and another draw with No. 4 New Hampshire.
Harvard’s latest triumph came last night at Bright Hockey Center, in a 2-1 victory over Connecticut (8-6-4, 2-3-4 Hockey East)—another tough team that has bounced in and out of the national rankings this season.
“We’re going to be tough to play, and that’s what we always want to be,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “I think it’s clear that we can play with anybody, but we’ve also raised our own expectations now.”
Freshman Kaitlin Spurling scored the game-winning goal against the Huskies in the second period, and senior goaltender Christina Kessler picked up her 63rd career win to tie Ali Boe ’06 for first all-time in the Harvard record books.
“She’s doing a great job,” Stone said of Kessler’s mark. “Hopefully there will be many more of those before she graduates.”
UConn got on the board first, scoring a powerplay goal 2:11 into the game. After a body-checking penalty on Spurling left the Crimson a skater short, Huskies defenseman Cristin Allen received the puck off a faceoff and lasered a pass to teammate Jennifer Chaisson at the left post. The UConn center knocked a shot off of Harvard co-captain Cori Bassett’s skate into the net to give the Huskies an early 1-0 lead.
“We started slow,” Stone said. “It was kind of unfortunate that they got a quick powerplay goal.”
Unfortunately for the Huskies, its initial score lit a flame under the Harvard offense, which responded to the early deficit by relentlessly assaulting the net. The Crimson took the game’s next 14 shots on goal, pressuring goalie Alexandra Garcia and the UConn defense into committing several ill-advised penalties, the first of which proved costly.
With five and a half minutes left in the first period, Harvard rookie forward Jillian Dempsey raced past Huskies defender Casey Knajdek and seemed to have a clear shot on the net. But Knajdek tripped Dempsey up, possibly preventing a goal, but also giving the Crimson a power play.
Harvard took full advantage of the opportunity, when junior forward Liza Ryabkina took the puck at the left circle and fed it down low to classmate Kate Buesser, who was waiting at the near post. Buesser took the pass and redirected it past Garcia 15:44 into the game to tie the score at one.
In the first half of the second frame, it was the Crimson who had difficulty staying out of the penalty box. A pair of consecutive hooking penalties by co-captain Kathryn Farni put Harvard on the defensive, giving the Huskies momentum and allowing them to dictate the pace of the game.
“That happens in games,” Farni said. “Sometimes if you don’t play well in your [defensive] zone, you take bad penalties.”
UConn had its best chance to take the lead 4:34 into the period, when center Monique Weber charged through the slot and fired the puck at Kessler. The Crimson goalie made an agile stop, but the rebound went to Huskies forward Lisa Stathopulos. The rookie, tied for the UConn lead with 11 points this season, squared up a shot but bounced it off the left post.
With the Huskies failing to execute its power play, Harvard regrouped and once again took control of the game. With under five minutes left in the second, the Crimson went on its fifth power play of the game following a boarding penalty on UConn’s Michelle Binning.