Stability at the goaltender position has long been a hallmark of Harvard women’s hockey, with stalwarts like Ali Boe ’06, Brittany Martin ’08, and senior Christina Kessler defending the net for the Crimson in recent years. But when Kessler’s college career came to a sudden end after she tore her ACL two weeks ago, Harvard was forced to thrust untested freshman Laura Bellamy into the starting role earlier than it ever planned to.
After mixed results in her first five appearances, Bellamy steadied herself just in time for a barrage of Dartmouth shots on Friday in Hanover, N.H., making 37 saves in a 4-1 Crimson win and marking the defining moment of her young career.
“She gives us confidence as defense,” Harvard co-captain Kathryn Farni said. “It’s like she knows exactly where to be. She’s natural in there.”
Junior forward Kate Buesser and the Crimson offense took care of the rest, displaying more efficiency than its counterpart. Despite being outshot 38-28, Harvard found the back of the net four times, with Buesser scoring twice.
“[The Big Green] is always a tough team to play against,” Farni said, “but I think we came out strong. We just kept plugging, and pucks started going in the net—that’s exactly what we need to be doing.”
The Crimson struggled to find its footing in the early stages of the contest, ceding the momentum to Dartmouth with a pair of first-period penalties. The Big Green rattled off 15 shots in the frame compared to Harvard’s 10.
But the Crimson penalty kill stood tall, and after earning a power play in the second period, Harvard struck.
Farni converted on an assist from junior and fellow defenseman Leanna Coskren to put the Crimson on the board 1:18 into the second. But Dartmouth wasn’t prepared to let the game slip away just yet, and the Big Green retaliated six minutes later with a score from Sally Komarek.
That would be Dartmouth’s last foray into the net, as Bellamy buckled down behind a defense that successfully fought off five Big Green power plays.
“It’s kind of an opportunity to prove myself right now,” Bellamy said. “I think the team has been playing great defense, and it’s made it an easy job for me. It’s been fun.”
With the Harvard blueliners resolute, the Crimson’s forwards got to the business of scoring.
Buesser initiated a flurry of goals, slipping the puck past Dartmouth goalie Mariel Lacina 16:32 into the second period. She then repeated the trick after intermission, notching another tally midway through the third frame to put Harvard up, 3-1.
Buesser has done her share to make up for the loss of the Crimson’s three leading scorers—Sarah Vaillancourt ’08-’09, Jenny Brine ’09, and Sarah Wilson ’09—to graduation last year, leading Harvard with 10 goals and 16 assists over 21 games.
“She’s doing a great job,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said of Buesser. “She plays tough, and she plays consistently tough, and that’s what makes a difference for us.”
Harvard added another insurance goal in the game’s closing minutes, when freshman Kaitlin Spurling scored off assists from Buesser and senior forward Randi Griffin.
“Regardless of what was going on in the game, we kept to our game plan and we didn’t deviate,” Stone said. “It was a tight game for a long time, and so I thought we stuck to our game plan and did a nice job and were patient. And once we got our opportunities, we took advantage of them.”
While Dartmouth is not the ECAC powerhouse it was in years past, it still represents a tough conference foe for the Crimson. Beating the Big Green was important for a Harvard team that is fighting a tough race to the top of the league standings.
With 27 points, Clarkson has a firm lead in the ECAC regular-season title hunt, but the Crimson is tied for third in the conference with Rensselaer and Princeton at 20 and is hot on the trail of second-place Cornell, which stands at 23.
Harvard’s place among its peers will have ECAC playoff implications in terms of seeding and home-ice advantage, and likely influence its chances of an NCAA Tournament bid as well.
—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.