Saturday brought disappointment. Sunday brought relief.
At 6 p.m. on Sunday, the No. 6/6 Harvard women’s ice hockey team (23-6-4, 16-3-3 ECAC) earned an at-large bid into the 2014 NCAA Tournament, despite losing to No. 5/5 Cornell (24-5-4, 15-4-3) in the ECAC semifinals 24-hours prior.
“I love my team,” said Harvard interim head coach Maura Crowell. “They laid it out on the line [on Saturday], gave it everything they had. Mental mistakes and some errors caught us, and that’s going to happen sometimes. But I love them, I’ve had a blast, and we’re looking forward to continuing the season.”
The ECAC matchup against the Big Red ended the Crimson’s hopes at a league tournament title. Fortunately for Harvard, the 6-4 loss at Cheel Arena will not be the final game of its 2013-2014 campaign.
After several contests in which scores were slow to come, senior forward Gina McDonald put the Crimson on the board just over four minutes into the contest. But closely spaced penalties gave Cornell a costly five-on-three advantage during the middle of the period. The Big Red capitalized, as junior forward Emily Fulton sniped one past sophomore goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer in the final seconds of the two-man advantage.
Maschmeyer returned to action in Saturday’s contest after freshman Brianna Laing took over in net for two of last weekend’s three matchups. The sophomore, recently named Co-Ivy Player of the Year and ECAC Goaltender of the Year, recorded 19 save against Cornell but gave up five goals on the night, the highest number of nets by an opponent all season.
“[Maschmeyer] made some incredible saves at certain points,” sophomore forward Miye D’Oench said. “We had some defensive breakdowns that kind of left her out to dry, [and] a few of them went in, a few of them didn’t. I think Emerance did everything she could to put us in a position to win, and unfortunately things didn’t go our way.”
The Big Red extended its lead to 2-1 with an early second frame goal, but Harvard came storming back with three straight nets of its own in the second frame, largely due to the offensive firepower of D’Oench. The forward found the back of the net eight minutes into the period, and the sophomore added an assist on classmate Jessica Harvey’s goal just five minutes later. D’Oench put up another score with less than two minutes to go in the period, giving the Crimson a 4-2 advantage.
But the momentum of the game shifted, as Cornell responded with a goal of its own less than 50 seconds later. Junior forward Jillian Saulnier drove the puck past Maschmeyer with 1:07 left in the period to cut the deficit to one heading into the final twenty minutes of play.
“[That] goal was somewhat of a back-breaker,” Crowell said. “You get a two-goal lead against Cornell in a semifinal game, it’s a really good situation to be in. I would’ve liked to see us play with a lot more composure and stability. To turn around and give a goal up was devastating. We talk all season long about the final two minutes of a period and the first two minutes of a period, how you have to play smart, you have to keep pucks deep. That was a really bad goal to give up.”
Saulnier and her squad came out firing in the third period. The junior scored again two minutes into the frame to even the score at four goals apiece. Sophomore forward Jess Brown added a score of her own while on the power play at 12:44 to put the Big Red up by one.
“We had a two goal lead with about a minute left in the second period, and we kind of gave it back to them,” D’Oench said. “We’re obviously pretty disappointed about that. I thought we played a pretty good game, but when you have a two-goal lead in a game like that you shouldn’t really be giving it back to them.”
The Crimson kept pressing for the remainder of the third, but a checking penalty on Briana Mastel with 1:19 left in the game put Harvard a man-down for the remainder of the game. Harvard pulled Maschmeyer from the net to even out the strength of the field, but Cornell forward Emily Fulton sent the puck flying into an empty net with 24 seconds left in the game to cap off the victory.
Harvard wasn’t the only team Cornell edged this weekend in Potsdam, N.Y., as the Big Red defeated hometown one-seed Clarkson, 1-0, in Sunday’s ECAC title matchup. The Crimson will face four-seed Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., next Saturday. Cornell, second on the ladder, will host Mercyhurst at home on the same day.
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.