A victory against Cornell had eluded the Crimson women’s hockey team for almost four years, a drought dating back to the end of 2008. The Big Red has held undisputed top-dog position in the ECAC conference since then, with three championships in the last three years.
Co-captain Jillian Dempsey and the other Harvard seniors had never beaten Cornell.
The Crimson has always seemed one step behind the Big Red; they came in second to the Big Red in consecutive seasons, dropping close games each year.
From the outset, it seemed like the 2012 season was destined to continue down the same path, as Cornell came into the year as the pick to repeat as conference champs and is currently nationally ranked at No. 2, right behind University of Minnesota.
But the trend would not continue this year, as Dempsey led her team to its first victory over Cornell in her career.
The 3-1 win came on a day when Big Red’s national ranking meant nothing, as it was outplayed and outgunned by a stronger Harvard squad.
“This was the one year, more than any year past, where I truly, truly believed that we had the talent and teamwork to do this,” Dempsey said. “If there was any doubt prior to the Cornell game that we were a good team, they’re all gone now because of the way we played. We know now what we’re capable of if we show up and play really hard and really well.”
Dempsey was directly responsible for a lot of the momentum that finally put the losing streak to an end. After only two minutes of playing time, the co-captain was able to get in front of goal after a scramble and nudge the puck past Cornell goaltender Lauren Slebodnick to put Harvard ahead early.
At the beginning of the third period, Dempsey strung a pass to teammate Kalley Armstrong on a breakaway to put the game at 2-1. Lots of forechecking and backchecking on both sides of the puck helped keep the Big Red from gaining momentum and staging a comeback.
“She’s the most consistent player on our team,” said teammate and fellow co-captain Laura Bellamy. “And she always brings it in. She brought it for the most important game of our season so far and definitely helped lead us to victory on Saturday. There’s really not much else we could ask from her at this point.”
The 2012 Patty Kazmaier Award nominee and ECAC first team selection was similarly impressive earlier in the weekend, when she tallied two assists to help put Harvard up, 4-1, over conference foes Colgate. With the two wins over the weekend, the Crimson advanced to 6-0 in conference play.
“[Dempsey] is the catalyst of our offense,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “She works so hard, she’s relentless, and she sets the tone for how things happen offensively.”
Dempsey played for the Team USA under-22 squad this summer in a best-of-three against Team Canada, which the USA swept.
The co-captain is able to bring that experience and leadership from a higher level of competitive play to the college team.
Dempsey currently sits with seven goals and eight assists in only seven games played and holds a team-high 15 points. Her +12 plus/minus on the ice is not only the best on team, but good enough for third-best in the league.
Impressive stat numbers are nothing new to Dempsey, who shined similarly last year as a junior. In 30 games played, the co-captain scored 27 goals with 21 assists and averaged a team-best 1.6 points per game. Her .9 goals-per-game average was sixth best in the country.
“I think [Dempsey] has improved steadily every year, and she keeps adding to her game,” Stone said. “She made a couple of huge defensive plays on Saturday night against Cornell, she backchecked hard, [and] played well offensively…. Things like that, the different pieces of her game, continue to improve and she continues to become a better player.”
Dempsey says it’s easy to work hard for her teammates and school when the motivation comes naturally.
“The one place I really want to be is on the ice, either at the rink or training for it,” she said. “I honestly love it so much, and that’s why I’m so motivated to keep training for it. It’s definitely going to have to be a part of my life, in one way or another, for as long as I can.”