Women's Hockey Sets Sights on ECAC Semifinal Matchup

Nida Naushad

With a spot in the ECAC championship on the line, junior forward Jillian Dempsey and the Harvard women’s hockey team will take on St. Lawrence this weekend in Ithaca, N.Y., in the second round of the ECAC tournament. The Crimson is coming off an opening-round sweep of Princeton.

In 2008, Harvard women’s hockey team capped off the first-ever perfect run through the East Coast Athletic Conference in a championship game against St. Lawrence in a riveting overtime win in Canton, N.Y.

That night, the Saints persevered through regulation play and a disallowed Crimson goal to force overtime. Just as it appeared as though pressure and history were mounting to deny Harvard its shot at a coveted perfect season, the 5-foot-4 Caitlin Cahow ’08 proved big things do come in small packages. Her shot from the left side found the net and sent the Crimson home with a 3-2 victory, the ECAC title, and perfection.

This year, after sweeping Princeton in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, the No. 8 Harvard women’s hockey team will get a chance to move closer to yet another conference championship.

Thanks to sixth-seeded Quinnipiac’s surprise victory over third-seeded Clarkson, the Crimson will once face the No. 10 Saints, who hold the fifth seed.  The winner of the Friday game in Ithaca, N.Y., will advance to play against the survivor of the matchup between top-ranked Cornell and the Bobcats, in a potentially hostile championship game on Saturday.

St. Lawrence goaltender Carmen MacDonald set a new university record with her sixth shutout of the season last weekend, but the Saints’ defense will have to face a Harvard squad that fires 31.1 shots on net a game and scores an average of 3.68 goals.

At the other end of the ice, the Crimson’s junior goaltender Laura Bellamy, who has started all 31 games this season, will add another interesting dimension. She has continually to shut down opponents in ECAC play, and, in late January, Bellamy recorded three shutouts in as many games to put her team in position for a late winning streak.

Since then, Harvard has won 11 of its last 13 contests, including its last six in a row.

During the span dating back to Jan. 21, the Crimson has decimated its opponents, outscoring them by a combined 35 goals, 56-21.

Excluding the two losses in that period—both of which came in the Beanpot tournament—the No. 8 team in the country has won by an average of more than three and a half goals per game, giving Harvard indispensable experience on the ice.

“It feels like we’ve seen just about everything,” junior forward Jillian Dempsey said. “We should have faith and confidence in ourselves that we can pull it off now because we have done it before.”

The Crimson has also experienced head-to-head success against St. Lawrence. It easily managed two early-season victories over the Saints by scores of 7-1 and 6-1.

Both games featured special teams success as the Harvard power play unit went 6-of-12, and only one shorthanded goal was allowed for St. Lawrence squad in its 15 opportunities.

“We just have to go out there and do it again,” Dempsey said of beating the Saints. “We were all over them. We were buzzing. We were in their face. We were beating them to pucks and putting away rebounds. We were doing a lot of the little things that we pride ourselves on.”

But the Saints will be coming into this weekend’s game on a hot streak of their own. Since dropping a game to Harvard in November, No. 3 Cornell is the only ECAC opponent to which St. Lawrence has fell.

“They are a different team [now],” Dempsey said. “They have turned something on and found a few keys to getting success…. We don’t know what they have done differently, but they have skill, we have skill, and it’s just going to be a matter of who’s whole team shows up ready to work.”

With 20 points in the month of February alone, Dempsey has been a major contributor to the team’s recent success. She started the month by nearly matching an NCAA-record six goals in one game, but ended with five the Crimson’s dominant 10-1 victory over Princeton.

While impressive, Dempsey’s five-goal performance wouldn’t be her most important against the Tigers. The ease with which she finds the net came in crucial in another late season home matchup against the Princeton. In the series-clinching win, Dempsey scored all of Harvard’s three regulation goals giving sophomore defender Marissa Gedman the opportunity to score game-winner in overtime and send the Crimson into the ECAC semifinals.

The Crimson, which earned the tournament’s two seed going 17-4-1 in conference play, has met the Saints in three of the last five postseasons. For the first time since Harvard’s 26-0-0 run, one of these teams will get another shot at the title bout.

—Staff writer Daniel A. Grafstein can be reached at dgrafstein@college.harvard.edu.

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