The Harvard women’s ice hockey team sat in its locker room, upset and angry, Friday night at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center. The Crimson (23-5-4, 16-3-3 ECAC) had just lost a double-overtime game to Yale, 3-2. The players knew they were 0-2-1 against the Bulldogs (9-16-7, 6-9-7) on the year and that they would have to beat Yale twice in a row to advance in the ECAC Tournament.
That’s when Harvard interim coach Maura Crowell turned to freshman backup goalie Brianna Laing and gave her a surprise in front of the whole team before leaving the locker room.
Laing would start the next game.
The freshman stayed composed but admitted she was nervous after she got the assignment. Laing had started only five regular season games, and though she had played in many high school and club tournaments, she knew this one came with a “different pressure.”
Her nerves disappeared Saturday morning, Laing said, but they did not stay gone for long. When the Bulldogs scored with less than seven minutes to go in the contest, taking a 2-1 lead, she understood the implications that it might have for Harvard’s season. But Laing’s teammates stepped up, scoring two minutes later and then again in double-overtime to earn a third game with Yale.
After the win, Crowell surprised Laing again, telling her she would start the following day. Laing had not logged back-to-back games for the Crimson before, but she performed even better Sunday, shutting out the Bulldogs in a 4-0 victory.
“I was a little more nervous on Saturday because I hadn’t been put in that situation before,” Laing said. “On Sunday, I just felt more comfortable and knew what I was doing.”
The win advanced Harvard to the ECAC semifinals against Cornell (22-5-4, 15-4-3) this coming Saturday. It also forced Crowell to make the choice again: Laing or sophomore starter Emerance Maschmeyer. The team did not practice Monday or Tuesday, meaning Crowell will have to decide who is playing better based on limited practice time.
Laing did more than save 62 shots over two days, she saved Harvard’s season. But now she’s prepared to hand the reins back to Maschmeyer, who is third in the country in save percentage.
“I’m pretty positive that Emerance will be playing because she has been so amazing this season,” Laing said.
Maschmeyer has already earned a win and a tie against the Big Red this season. In the first contest, Harvard held a 2-0 lead entering the third period but Cornell scored three times to earn a 3-3 draw in Cambridge in November.
At Cornell’s Lynah Rink in January, the Crimson took a 3-1 lead and did not relinquish it, winning for its first victory in Ithaca since the 2008-2009 season. Those two results give Harvard confidence heading into Saturday’s matchup in Potsdam, N.Y.
“Taking three points from Cornell has to be a first for us in a few years so we know we can play with them,” Crowell said. “We feel very confident against them.”
The winner Saturday will face either Clarkson or Quinnipiac in the ECAC Final Sunday. Saturday’s game can be viewed online on the America One Sports, while Sunday’s contest will be streamed on ESPN3.
At the beginning of the year, the Crimson was not expected to compete for a spot in the tourney, but members of the program did not lower their expectations.