The Crimson (17-9-3, 16-4-2 ECAC) prepares to take on Cornell (8-9-5, 12-12-5) this weekend in the best-of-three ECAC quarterfinals. The puck drops today at 3:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Bright Hockey Center, with the third game scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. if necessary.
After beating the Big Red twice this season, by counts of 5-1 and 5-2, Harvard looks to prevail over Cornell two more times this weekend and push through to the next round of the ECAC tournament.
“They were good wins,” junior Christina Kessler said. “But we know we can’t take anything for granted. Cornell is a strong team that will never give up. We will have to give 100% through both 60-minute games.”
Although the Big Red stands at eighth place in the ECAC regular-season standings, Harvard knows that it cannot relax for a minute during these games.
“Anything can happen in the tournament,” tri-captain Sarah Vaillancourt said. “Everyone starts with zero wins, zero ties and zero losses.”
This feeling of having the upper hand was not with the Crimson at the beginning of the season. Just over a month ago, with the regular season drawing towards its end, Harvard had a sub-.500 record, and the vision of winning the ECAC tournament seemed well out of reach.
But, the Crimson was not ready to admit defeat.
“We dug ourselves deep in the rankings,” Vaillancourt said. “But we turned things around at the perfect time and we’re still peaking. We’ve been improving every game.”
Slowly but surely, Harvard clawed its way back up the ECAC rankings, winning 11 straight conference games with only two losses against Boston College and New Hampshire in the last six weeks. The Crimson ended its season by capturing both the Ivy League title and the ECAC title, and comes into the tournament this weekend with a first-place seed.
“With last year’s success, [winning the ECAC] was one of our goals,” Kessler said. “But after the first few games, it didn’t seam like a realistic goal. We have pulled through and turned everything around in the right direction.”
The Big Red women’s hockey team barely secured an ECAC playoff spot with a 3-3 tie against No. 10 Dartmouth on Valentine’s Day. At Cornell’s senior night and in front of a crowd of over 500 people, the Big Red was able to squeeze in a draw to clinch a spot in the tournament, and prove that it is no stranger to high pressure situations. Since then, the team has split its last two season games, falling to Rensselaer, 3-1, and powering over Union, 8-0.
“[Cornell has] a few really good players but in the end, it’s a team game,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We have to look to shut Cornell down all over the ice. We want to be aware of their strengths, but in the end you want to focus on your own strengths.”
Cornell’s leading scorer, sophomore Rebecca Johnston, has been the only member of the Big Red hockey team to score on the Crimson this year. Johnston, a teammate of Vaillancourt’s on the Canadian national team, has the most career points of any Cornell player, with 77 as only a second-year.
The Crimson is led offensively by Vaillancourt, who is averaging 2.31 points per game in the past 13 contests and was named Ivy League Player of the Year yesterday. The defense, lead by goaltender Kessler, has allowed only 1.31 goals per game over the same stretch.
After a week full of tough practices, Harvard is geared up and ready for its challenge this weekend.
“[We are] really confident going in,” Vaillancourt said. “We’ve been having a great month and finishing first definitely helped our confidence. We’re aware that Cornell finished eighth but we know they are a much better team than that.”