When all hope seemed lost for the Crimson, its performance while outnumbered provided the team with inspiration.
But just when a Harvard victory appeared inevitable, an untimely penalty brought devastation.
“We put ourselves in a position to win a game and then we put ourselves out of a position to win a game,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said.
After Harvard cut the Wildcats’ 2-0 lead in half when tri-captain Sarah Vaillancourt scored a goal 9:21 into the second period, the Crimson nullified any momentum it might have gained with two penalties within 40 seconds of each other.
Less than a minute after Vaillancourt scored, sophomore Kate Buesser was whistled for checking.
With Harvard already a player down, junior Cori Bassett joined Buesser in the box after she sent an opponent sprawling on the ice to draw a roughing call.
Facing the daunting task of killing a 5-on-3 UNH power play, the Crimson rose to the occasion on the collective back of its veteran leaders.
Vaillancourt, tri-captain Jenny Brine and senior defender Kati Vaughn repelled the Wildcats’ advances in Harvard’s defensive zone.
“[The three seniors] really adjusted well,” tri-captain Kirsten Kester said. “They worked well in the rotation. I do think that was a really crucial moment in the game, really could have swung the momentum either way but it kept us in there.”
Junior goaltender Christina Kessler also did her part in the effort, making several flashy saves throughout the course of UNH’s power play to turn away near-goals. Kessler finished the night with 28 saves.
With the Wildcats denied, Harvard roared back when it finally returned to even strength, tying the score on a goal by junior defenseman Kathryn Farni at 15:34 into the second frame.
But the penalty kill proved to be a double-edged sword for the Crimson.
While neither Harvard nor UNH managed to score in the third period, the Crimson controlled the pace of the game in the final stanza of regulation and continued its dominance of the puck in overtime.
But Harvard’s offensive assault was rendered powerless 3:39 into the extra period when sophomore Liza Ryabkina committed a holding penalty in the Crimson’s offensive zone.
“You can’t play with one hand behind your back,” Stone said.
With Harvard in dire straits, the Wildcats smelled blood.
On a bang-bang play following a faceoff, UNH’s Courtney Birchard slammed a pass from teammate Jenn Wakefield past Kessler to send the Crimson home empty-handed.
“Offensive zone penalties like that—those are things we can control,” Kester said. “Again, in that case, it wasn’t an issue with the refs. That was on our part, and…one thing we talked about after the game is taking control of those plays and really owning up to them.”
In a night in which Harvard turned its penalties into a rallying point for an impressive comeback, the Crimson’s final infraction was too much.
Yesterday night was just the latest episode in a seemingly endless saga of disappointment in Harvard’s meetings with UNH.
While the Crimson has enjoyed success against some of the fiercest competition in the nation in recent seasons, Harvard hasn’t taken a victory over the Wildcats in over five years.
Since a 4-0 Crimson win against UNH on Jan. 9, 2003, Harvard is 0-6-2 against its Hockey East opponent.
“They’ve got talent and goaltending,” Stone said. “They play with an edge. They’re a tough team to play against. But we like playing against them because it’s tough competition.”
Tough competition might have finally been bested last night, save for one penalty kill too many.
—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at email@example.com.