Playoffs Kick Off Against Tigers
A season is at stake this weekend as the Harvard women’s hockey team heads into the opening round of ECAC playoffs as the third seed. The No. 4 Crimson (18-6-5, 12-6-2 ECAC) will host sixth-seeded Princeton (13-12-4, 11-7-4) in a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Bright Hockey Center, playing its first match tonight at 7 p.m. on coveted home ice.
Harvard has finished up a strong regular season and is coming off a 2-1 win over St. Lawrence and a 3-3 tie with Clarkson last weekend to clinch its seed in the playoffs. The Crimson is respected as a force to be reckoned with, ranking second in the ECAC with 3.14 goals per game and lighting the lamp 69 times in 22 conference contests. The squad also ranks third in the country in scoring defense with 1.48 goals permitted per game and sixth in the nation on the penalty kill (104 of 116, .897.)
Knowing this, Harvard is going into its opening series against the Tigers with momentum.
“Our kids expect to win every game and know they can compete with anyone on the other side of the ice,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “It’s been a great thing to see our kids transform themselves into a real confident machine.”
But every great season has its end, and Harvard must get past Princeton to continue in the ECAC playoffs and hopefully on to the NCAA Tournament. But the Tigers aren’t going to make it easy for them.
Although Princeton is the No. 6 seed, it was able to claim three of four points from the Crimson in conference play. In its first contest, Harvard lost, 2-1, in overtime to the Tigers, and in their second match, the teams tied, 3-3.
“Princeton is a feisty team,” junior forward Kate Buesser said. “They work really hard, and they’ve got a bunch of very skilled forwards and a strong defense.”
But the Crimson is ready for them.
“We are looking forward to the challenge of using our own speed and our own skills to beat them this weekend,” Buesser said. “We are hoping to use some of the skills we’ve been working on to surprise them and to take advantage of them right out of the gates.”
“I think we know that we haven’t played 60 minutes of really good hockey against them yet,” Stone added.
To do this, the team will have to stop Tigers sophomore forward Paula Romanchuk and junior defender Sasha Sherry, two Princeton players who recently earned third-team All-ECAC honors and are significant presences on the ice.
But this isn’t fazing the members of the Harvard squad.
“We pay attention to who is coming in, and we give them respect in knowing who they are,” Buesser said. “But on the same token, this weekend is about us, and that’s what we are focusing on right now.”
With its speed and strong defense, the Crimson has reason for its confidence. Its freshman goaltender, Laura Bellamy, is going into this weekend with more experience than the last time she faced the Tigers. The teams’ second contest had been her first career start, as she stepped in between the pipes in senior Christina Kessler’s absence.
This crucial match is also important for Stone on a personal level. With Harvard’s win over St. Lawrence last Friday, Stone is currently tied for the all-time Division I record for victories with 337. Defeating Princeton would give her sole possession of the title.
“It’s certainly attributed to all of the support and great players that we’ve had in the program,” Stone said. “Nobody breaks records without the help of a lot of people...I guess records are made to be broken, and it would be nice to get them out of the way and to just keep moving on.”
As the Crimson fights to keep its season alive and to help its coach break a record, a lot is at stake at Bright Hockey Center this weekend. Only one team will move on.