If Saturday’s matchup between the Harvard and Cornell women’s hockey teams proves to be a preview of the ECAC title game, the conference championship is still very much up for grabs.
After falling behind, 3-0, in the first period, the Crimson (15-10-4, 14-5-3 ECAC) nearly sent the No. 2 Big Red (26-2-1, 20-1-1) to a winless weekend, ultimately falling, 4-3, on Senior Day at Bright Hockey Center.
“As I mentioned to the kids in between the second and third period, there are no moral victories,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “It was a great hockey game overall, but we’re not going to sit back and say, ‘Oh, we played well against Cornell, who’s the No. 1 team in the league.’ We’re not happy we lost.”
The first minutes of the game were marked by a quick tempo and few shots on net. But with a goal off the stick of Brianne Jenner 12 minutes into the period, Cornell seized control of the game’s momentum.
Jenner skated up the right side of the ice, took a long pass from linemate Karlee Overguard and beat sophomore goaltender Laura Bellamy to the right side of the cage.
That goal sparked a five-minute stretch in which the Big Red built what proved to be an insurmountable three-goal lead.
“They’re good, and if you give them time and space, they’re going to hurt you,” Stone said. “We were on our toes, being pretty aggressive at the beginning, and then we backed up...I know [the players] are all pretty bent out of shape, they wish they could have the first period back, but that’s hockey.”
At the 14:26 mark, Chelsea Karpenko doubled Cornell’s advantage, stuffing a rebound off Catherine White’s shot past Bellamy. White then added a goal of her own three minutes later, tipping in a shot from Laura Fortino.
Suddenly, the Crimson was staring down a 3-0 deficit heading into the first intermission. But rather than give up on a game that was meaningless in the standings—the teams had already secured the top two seeds in the conference playoffs—Harvard returned from the break rejuvenated.
“I think we played the last 40 minutes with great desire,” tri-captain Kate Buesser said. “If we had played the whole game like that, we would have had a different decision there.”
The Crimson was in control offensively for the whole second period, outshooting the Big Red, 18-8, in the frame. After a particularly strong shift in which Harvard’s third line was able to keep pressure on Cornell netminder Lauren Slebodnick, the Crimson was finally able to break through at the 6:22 mark.
Junior Alisa Baumgartner skated the puck into the offensive zone, putting a long shot on net. Slebodnick made the initial save, but sophomore Josephine Pucci was there to scoop up the rebound, backhanding the puck into the net as she fell to the ice.
With one goal already on the board, Harvard picked up the pace, testing Slebodnick repeatedly. The freshman goalie held strong through a mid-period power play, but with six minutes left in the frame, Buesser brought her team back within one.
The tri-captain picked up a deflected shot from freshman Marissa Gedman, carried the puck right up the middle of the offensive zone, and lit the lamp.
“They just were determined, they kept it simple, they went to the net, they dug, and they played with a chip on their shoulder,” Stone said of her team’s second-period performance. “And they need to.”