Harvard Sets Sights on Conference Title

Skate Buesser
Meredith H. Keffer

The No. 4 Crimson takes on No. 6 Clarkson in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament tonight in upstate New York. Harvard will depend on leading scorer junior Kate Buessar, shown here in earlier action, to challenge a stingy Golden Knights defense that ranks fourth in the conference in goals allowed per game. A win would earn the Crimson a shot at the ECAC championship.

After a convincing sweep of the Princeton Tigers in the first round of the ECAC playoffs last weekend, the No. 4 Harvard women’s hockey team only has one thing on its mind as it moves on in the tournament: retribution.

The team heads to Potsdam, N.Y., tonight to face off against the No. 6 Clarkson Golden Knights, who beat the Crimson 2-1 in Cambridge in early November. The two teams then tied 3-3 at Cheel Arena on Feb. 20.

“I definitely think we have a good sense of what kind of team they are this year, what their strengths and weaknesses are,” co-captain Kathryn Farni said.

If Harvard wins, it will then either travel to No. 8 Cornell or come home to play Rensselaer in the ECAC Championship game Sunday night. Harvard did not win any of the games it played against the Big Red and the Engineers during the regular season.

“I think with all three teams that we could play, we’ll have a little bit of revenge hopefully for all of them, with what happened during the regular season,” Farni said.

Though the team is likely to earn a spot in the eight-team NCAA tournament even with a loss Friday, the Crimson is still planning to give the ECAC tournament everything it has got.

“We don’t just want to settle for getting to the NCAAs,” said freshman forward Jillian Dempsey, who was named to the ECAC All-Rookie team. “We want to be the best we can be, and with our team we can definitely win the ECACs, so we're going to put all of our effort and energy into winning every game here on out."

Harvard has to at play Clarkson, and potentially at Cornell, despite its higher national ranking because those two teams had more points than the Crimson in ECAC play. If Harvard can win the conference tournament, it would likely earn one of the NCAA’s top four seeds, guaranteeing Harvard home ice in the first round.

“That would be huge if we were able to get home ice advantage,” said junior forward Kate Buesser, who was named first-team ECAC after ranking second in the league in scoring with 32 points. “We usually play a lot better with the energy of the crowd, and we know our rink a little bit better.”

To even get to that point, the Crimson will still have to take care of business against the Golden Knights and either the Big Red or the Engineers. Neither game will be easy—two are top-10 teams in the country, the other is coming off a five-overtime win over Quinnipiac in the longest NCAA women’s hockey game in history.

Against Clarkson, Harvard will have to find a way to shut down Golden Knights’ captain Britney Selina, the team’s all-time leading scorer and finalist for the ECAC Best Defensive Defenseman Award. The Clarkson offense also features third-team all-ECAC forward Dominique Thibault, second in the ECAC in goals with 21 and points with 39. Forward Juana Baribeau and left wing Melissa Waldie both have 16 goals on the year as well.

But the Crimson feels it has a plan that can counter the Golden Knights’ high-powered offensive attack which led the ECAC with 96 goals during the regular season.

“They’re clearly a bigger, more physical team than we are,” Dempsey said. “So we know that one of the better ways to beat them is by using our speed, moving the puck quickly, and outworking them in the corners.”

“I think with our team speed they’re definitely a team we can take advantage of in that way,” added Farni. “They have some really strong players but I don’t think their speed is necessarily up to the same level as ours.”

Between the pipes for Harvard will be freshman Laura Bellamy, who will have to adjust to playing in her first one-game elimination matches from here on out. The Crimson defense, which was second in the ECAC with just 1.42 goals allowed per game during the regular season, is headlined by third-team all ECAC performer Leanna Coskren.

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