In college women’s ice hockey, 21 players are allowed to dress for a game in which skaters fluidly hop the rink barrier to sub in and out regularly. Twenty-one players are expected to fill each team’s bench, ready to assume the ice and compete instantly.
This past season, just 18 Crimson players and their interim coach, Maura Crowell, called the Bright-Landry Hockey Center home. Three under the normal roster size, there was no room for injury or inefficiency. And few missteps were taken, as a team depleted by graduation, the Olympics, and health-related departures contended for the ECAC title and finished the season 23-7-4, just one win short of its 2012-2013 total.
“It’s about us,” Crowell said. “This 18. This small team of 18. That’s all it’s about, and no one else is coming in the door to help us out. No one else is going to feel bad for us this year.”
For the first time since the 1993-1994 season, Katey Stone was not at the helm of Harvard women’s ice hockey, temporarily leaving her post to coach Team USA in its preparations for and competition in the Sochi Olympics. As Stone and a quintet of Crimson current or former players trained for international contests, a Harvard squad faced its situation—the absence of four of the five top scorers from the previous year and one of two contributing goalies.
With a notable personnel deficit, a new cast of characters came to the frontlines to keep Harvard consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally. Sophomore Miye D’Oench doubled her offensive production, while classmate Emerance Maschmeyer continued to defend the goal, posting the second-highest save percentage in the league through the season’s end.
Youth propelled the team, with just six players in their second half of college.
Still, veterans like junior Marissa Gedman, the team’s sole captain this year who took off the 2012-2013 season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, provided experience on defense, while forwards Hillary Crowe, Samantha Reber and Gina McDonald continued to pack an offensive punch.
Lack of experience did not seem to be a problem for the team as it suffered just four regular-season losses, notched eight total shutouts, and played the middle portion of its schedule, from Nov. 2 to Jan. 10, undefeated.
From the official season opener against Quinnipiac to the closing game at Wisconsin, the Crimson played a barrage of talented opponents. Victories over highly-ranked teams landed the squad toward the top of the ECAC for much of the season.
Wins and losses ranged from 5-0 shutouts to double-overtime dramas, with some providing career-best performances or program superlatives. Maschmeyer notched a personal record of 51 saves during an overtime tie against Boston College on Dec. 7.
For the first time since the 2008-2009 season, Harvard beat Cornell at Lynah Rink in Ithaca on Jan. 13 as the then-No. 5/6 Crimson topped the then-No. 3 Big Red, 3-1, for sole possession of the top spot in the ECAC.
“All season people have talked about the adversity we faced, but the confidence in ourselves is unwavering,” said Gedman after the Cornell win. “Now people are seeing the teams we are beating and they are starting to respect us as much as we respect ourselves.”
Despite regular-season success, playoff wins were harder to come by for Crowell’s team. Two double-overtime nailbiters against Yale in the ECAC quarterfinals nearly denied the Crimson a trip to the semis, in which the squad fell to Cornell’s comeback effort in the third period. And while the team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, it was unable to upset fourth-seeded Wisconsin for a spot in the Frozen Four.
If a shortage of bodies was a problem this year, it will certainly be the opposite next year, when Stone returns and brings with her Lyndsey Fry, Josephine Pucci, and Michelle Picard, all members of Team USA. Pucci and Picard will share captain responsibilities with senior Kalley Armstrong, who took this past season off due to concussion-related symptoms.
“It’s going to be a much bigger team, so that’s going to be interesting going from 18 to about 26,” Crowell said. “But that’s a good thing. There were times this year when we started games with 14 or 15, and it’s very difficult to compete at the D1 level with that few bodies on a roster.”
The team will expand back to a normally sized roster, full of Olympians, breakout stars, and highly-touted recruits.
“It’s going to be great,” Crowell said. “It’s going to increase the competitiveness at practice every day. It’s going to be battling for ice time and with that brings good things and it also brings challenges. We have what we think are all of the pieces of the puzzle here lined up really well.”
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonCordelia.