Season Comes to Shocking End

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Raquel Rodriguez

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Shots; penalties; disallowed goals; last-gasp interventions; end-to-end counter attacking; a valiant comeback; overtime; goal-tending at its very finest. Everything a fan of the Harvard women’s hockey team could ask for in an ECAC Tournament semifinal matchup.

Everything, that is, except a win for the Crimson.

In an engrossing clash, No. 7 Harvard (19-10-3) suffered a shocking 3-2 defeat in extra minutes at the hands of Rensselaer (19-13-4). Not only did the loss knock Harvard out of the conference tourney, it also ensured that the Crimson would not get a bid for the NCAA Tournament, thus bringing a disappointing end to the season.

Following competitive games against Harvard earlier in the season—a 1-1 draw and 5-4 loss—the Engineers recorded their first ever win over their opponents and an ECAC final berth through a long-range effort from junior Laura Gersten.

“Obviously we’re very disappointed that we didn’t get the results that we wanted today,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “My compliments to RPI. They played tough, they played hard, and they took advantage of their opportunities.”

Having fought back from a 2-0 reverse in the second period through a brace by senior forward Sarah Wilson, the end result was hard for Harvard to swallow.

Though the Crimson outshot its opponent 50 to 17, it was thwarted by resolute defending by the Engineers, an inability to finish goal-scoring opportunities, and, at times, a simple lack of luck.

“I think the hockey gods were favoring them today,” Stone said. “We hit a lot of posts. We had some wide-open opportunities. It might have just been their day and not ours.”

To Crimson anguish and Engineer elation, the game was decided dramatically by the stick of Gersten.

At 13:20, in RPI’s fourth power play of the game—after Harvard was penalized for too many skaters on the ice—Stewart found Gersten open on the right wing. From distance, the defenseman smashed the puck through a crowded goalmouth and past the glove of junior goaltender Christina Kessler.

Cue delirium amongst the RPI bench and fans; cue devastation amongst the Crimson players so near but yet so far from victory.

“You have to let [the players] go through the process of being disappointed and dissatisfied and see what comes out of the dust—you can’t patch the holes at this point,” Stone said. “They have to band together and take care of themselves. There’s nothing a coach can say in situations like this that will make them feel better.”

From the outset, Harvard looked to seize the initiative, starting brightly in a competitive opening period.

An early opportunity for the Crimson came through an instinctive combination between tri-captains. At the Harvard blue-line, senior forward Sarah Vaillancourt launched a defense-splitting pass to senior Jenny Brine for a 1-on-1 with RPI goaltender Sonja van der Bliek. The forward veered left and fired a backhand shot, but was denied by a quick recovery by the Engineeers’ goaltender.

At 10:08, Crimson pressure resulted in the puck finding its way into the RPI net—only for the goal to be disallowed. Following a snap shot by junior Kathryn Farni from distance, sophomore Leanne Coskren scrambled the puck into the goal, but was deemed to have done so using her foot.

“I think our team came out and played a hard-fought game,” Kessler said. “We generated a lot of offense and unfortunately we didn’t capitalize on our chances.”

Not for the last time in the game, the Crimson was left to rue its spurned opportunities.

At 13:44, RPI capitalized on the absence of junior Anna McDonald—penalized for a cross check—to take a surprise lead against its hosts. From the left boards, Harrison pivoted and slide a pass to Naslund in front of the crease. From a tight angle, the RPI forward poked the puck past Kessler for the opening goal—sending the large contingent of Engineers supporters into raptures.

Minutes later, their lead over a shell-shocked Crimson was doubled.

Receiving a pass around the left, Naslund found space in front of the Harvard goal. With defensemen backing off, the forward drove the puck beyond Kessler into the top-right corner for her second of the game.

Faced with a two-goal deficit, Harvard got the best possible response from Wilson—the forward restored to the second line following illness.

At 16:11, Wilson picked up a pass from McDonald on the right and zeroed in on goal. The forward fired a low shot past van der Bliek to halve the Engineers’ advantage.

With the game on the line in the final period, Wilson spearheaded the Crimson resurgence in a third of sustained pressure. Taking advantage of a power play, the puck found its way out to Coskren deep on the right wing and the defenseman delivered a pinpoint pass for Wilson to hammer home the equalizer first time.

With ten seconds left in the final period, mayhem ensued as Harvard bombarded the Engineers’ goal. After a faceoff in RPI territory, Brine found herself in space with an open net, but contrived to blaze the puck inches over goal.

Barely a second remaining, Vaillancourt unleashed a snap shot a yard from goal; the net beckoning, the forward’s effort was repealed by an incredible diving save from van der Bliek, the puck flying wide.

“If you’re generating great opportunities, putting pucks on net and getting great looks at the net, it’s either going to happen or not,” Stone said. “[The Harvard skaters] did everything they could to put themselves in a position to win. You can’t ask for anything else.”

Into overtime, the Crimson continued to press.

In the team’s best opportunity, Wilson was denied a hat trick by another extraordinary stop by van der Bliek; the shot, driven in from the right, was parried clear to safety by the body of the RPI goaltender, beyond two Harvard forwards ready to convert the rebound.

—Staff writer Allen J. Padua can be reached at


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