After a long road stretch to open the season, the No. 7 Harvard women's hockey team (4-1-0, 4-0-0 ECAC) will return to action this weekend at the Bright Hockey Center to host two ECAC rivals.
On Friday night, the Crimson will face-off against Colgate (3-9-1, 0-5-1 ECAC) before sharing the ice with No. 2 Cornell (8-1-0, 6-0-0 ECAC) for a Saturday matinee.
The Crimson will be looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season after a slow start doomed Harvard to a 2-1 loss at the hands of No. 6/5 Boston University on Sunday.
“Coming away from the [BU game], we feel like we can do a better job putting in 60 minutes,” senior goaltender Laura Bellamy said after Sunday's game. “We feel like we had a good finish, but in the middle there we didn’t play as well.”
"We're looking forward to is the opportunity to have another game and to come out start-to-finish and play a full 60 minutes of Harvard hockey," co-captain Jillian Dempsey added Thursday.
Through five games, Harvard has allowed only three pucks between the posts, establishing a .60 goals against average that is second only to No. 1 Minnesota's mark of .57. Bellamy and freshman Emerance Maschmeyer have shared goaltending duties, stopping 84 shots on goal to establish a .966 save percentage. The Crimson has also posted a perfect 13-for-13 record on the penalty kill and is the least-penalized team in the NCAA.
On offense, Dempsey will have an opportunity to extend a 19-game individual point streak this weekend. The 2012 Patty Kazmaier Award nominee and ECAC first-team selection leads Harvard scorers with 1.2 goals per game and 2.2 points per game, marks that rank second and sixth in the NCAA, respectively.
"I honestly didn't realize that there was any kind of streak," Dempsey said. "I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can be and showing up every day and letting the team know what I'm going to bring each game."
Colgate, which finished 10th in the 12-team ECAC last year, will be looking for its first conference win on Friday. The Raiders will arrive at Bright battle-tested, having played Minnesota and Cornell each twice. The nation's top two teams took all four of those games, outscoring Colgate by a total of 36-2.
Harvard is 20-1-2 against the Raiders all-time and has shut out Colgate in its last three meetings. But after a weekend in which the men’s hockey team defeated Cornell but lost to Colgate, the Crimson women are not about to overlook their Friday night opponent.
"[The Raiders] are not that high in the standings, but that never means anything," Dempsey said. "Anything can happen on any given day, and I think a lot of opponents bring their A-game more when they're playing against Harvard."
Senior forward Brittany Phillips leads the Raiders in scoring with three goals and six assists.
The Big Red, meanwhile, is the Crimson's highest-ranked opponent of the season so far.
In this year's ECAC preseason poll, nine coaches tabbed Cornell as favorites to repeat as ECAC regular season champions. Harvard ranked second in the poll, receiving the remaining three first-place votes. Cornell swept its two games against the Crimson last year, shutting out Harvard, 2-0, in the teams' most recent meeting.
"[Cornell has] a lot of great depth and great talent, and it's always been very tough to beat them," Dempsey said. "But I think this year we're really close."
Harvard's defense will face its toughest test of the year in a Big Red offense that has averaged an NCAA third-best 4.67 goals per game this year.
Two-time Patty Kazmaier Award nominee and ECAC first-team selection Brianne Jenner leads a balanced Cornell attack with a 2.29 points per game average that ranks fourth in the NCAA. Jillian Saulnier, the 2012 ECAC Rookie of the Year, has also established herself as a prominent playmaker on the Big Red squad. Her 1.22 assists per game this season ranks sixth in the nation.
Harvard has not beaten Cornell since the 2008-09 season. After six losses and one tie versus Big Red over the course of their Crimson careers, Dempsey and Harvard's five other seniors have yet to break through against Cornell.
"It would be great to get the first win against [Cornell]," Dempsey said. "We know that we can compete with anybody. Yeah, they have great offense, and they have great defense too, but I think that we can really blow by them on the wall; and if we play well and move the puck the way we know how, then I think we have a good chance of winning."