It was also the last regular-season home game for the seven Crimson seniors—Sarah Wilson, Kati Vaughn, Nora Sluzas, Brittany Martin, and tri-captains Jenny Brine, Sarah Vaillancourt, and Kirsten Kester.
And although Harvard has earned the right to play at Bright for the duration of the ECAC playoffs, the Crimson’s class of 2009 was honored after the game for its contributions to the program.
“It’s so huge for us,” Vaughn said. “We’ve had a tough season, it hasn’t been easy for us, but for us to finish like this is really exciting.”
Before the post-game ceremony, though, Harvard’s oldest skaters showed just how much the team will miss them next year.
Every senior skater except for Kester finished the afternoon with at least one point—with Vaillancourt, Brine and Vaughn each recording three.
Martin, who has backed up junior goaltender Christina Kessler for the last two seasons, played the last 40 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game, holding the Golden Knights scoreless and making 14 saves.
“I’ve had just the greatest two years with them, and they deserve every win that they get,” sophomore Kate Buesser said. “It’s a great way to send them off into our new season, and hopefully we can keep it going for them.”
It’s been nearly a month since Buesser, Wilson, and junior Anna McDonald became the Crimson’s second line, and for weeks, the trio has struggled to put the puck in the net.
In the line’s first nine games playing together, it mustered just eight points—three of which came last Saturday against Colgate, when Buesser and McDonald assisted on Wilson’s third-period game-winner.
In comparison, Vaillancourt alone recorded 22 points in that same stretch.
It wasn’t that the trio wasn’t creating opportunities. It was simply a matter of finishing them.
That all changed Friday night, when the second line combined for six points to send Harvard past St. Lawrence and into first place in the ECAC for good.
“It is great to see results,” Buesser said. “We have a grade-A chance thing that we record, and I feel like our line has a lot of those, but it’s great to finally get some in the net.”
Wilson and Buesser connected for another score on Saturday afternoon.
The most impressive example of the line’s chemistry came near the end of the first period Friday.
McDonald won a faceoff in the offensive zone and quickly passed the puck to Wilson. The senior launched a shot at Saints netminder Brittony Chartier, and though the puck bounced off the goalie’s pads, Buesser was waiting at the right post to slam it home.
Just like that, Harvard and its second line were flying with a 3-0 lead.
“They’ve had a lot of weeks of really great play,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, and finally the results are showing. And that’s the most important thing—that they didn’t get discouraged, they just kept after it.”
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS
Though Harvard took a different road through its conference slate this season, the end destination was the same. With its 6-1 thrashing of Clarkson on Saturday, the Crimson claimed its second consecutive and sixth overall ECAC regular-season title.
Harvard finished one point ahead of St. Lawrence for the league crown, while Princeton slipped by a fading Dartmouth squad on Saturday to grab third place.
Not bad for a Crimson team that was under .500 just seven weeks ago.
“It means a lot, because I’m sure there were a lot of people who counted us out,” Stone said. “Our kids just kept working and stayed determined and played one game at a time. And see what happened…we’ve been able to crawl ourselves back and now we’re in a good position.”
Harvard was the preseason favorite to win the conference after going a perfect 26-0-0 in ECAC games last season.
In another callback to last season, the top-seeded Crimson will once again face off against eighth-seeded Cornell in the tournament’s opening round.
Last year, Harvard swept the Big Red, 3-2 and 4-2, at Bright en route to the tournament championship.
—Staff writer Kate Leist can be reached at email@example.com.