Stacked with young talent, Harvard women’s ice hockey looks to improve upon last year’s performance with a strong start to the season against Ivy League foe Dartmouth.
After finishing the 2016-2017 campaign in the middle of the pack, the Crimson will look to rebound this season, with the ultimate goal being the Ivy League championship. Over 70 percent of its scoring returns from last season, but the team’s incoming rookies finding finding their footing in Division I hockey will also be key to the contest against the Big Green.
“We have a huge freshman class that came in,” senior forward Haley Mullins said. “We know that our team is going to be a lot better this year.”
This season, freshman make up almost a third of the young Harvard roster. Due to the many new additions to the team, offseason preparation has focused on team chemistry.
“We have been really focused on gelling with each other and being on the same page as a team,” sophomore netminder Beth Larcom said.
The big question in the Crimson’s opening game will be whether this emphasis on team-building has paid off. Harvard hopes this injection of youth into the room will provide a new spark to an offense that averaged just 1.79 goals per game last year.
“Last year we were complacent,” Mullins said. “We had lots of ties and losses because we didn’t finish out plays.”
The offense is not the only focus in the season opener. The Crimson’s defense will look to start the year strong against an uncertain Dartmouth offense. The Big Green were last in scoring in both the Ivy League and the ECAC last season. Facing such an offensively challenged opponent, Harvard would ideally get pucks out of the defensive zone quickly and spend the majority of its time applying offensive pressure of its own.
Following an underperforming season, Harvard can establish itself at the top of the conference with a strong start. Last season, a rocky beginning defined the rest of the year, as the Crimson lost nine of its first 10 games en route to a 5-19-5 campaign.
“It’s a rebuilding year coming off of last year,” junior defenseman Kaitlin Tse said. “But we have a really strong and incoming class filling big roles that we lost.”
A key to a strong rejuvenation for Harvard will be the leadership of the upperclassmen, especially when it comes to guiding the large class of rookies. The Crimson is led by tri-captains Lexie Liang, Haley Mullins and Kate Hallett, who is only in her third year of play.
Liang, drafted with the twelfth overall pick by the Boston Pride in the 2017 NWHL Draft earlier this year, was Harvard’s points leader last season and will hope to replicate her performance in her final season with Harvard.
At goalie, the Crimson returns only one of three goalies to see the ice last year. Larcom, who minded the net in eight games as a freshman, understands the importance of gaining valuable experience early in one’s first season.
“A big thing for younger players going forward is staying loose and remembering to have fun with it,” Larcom said.
Early chemistry and development will be a pivotal focus for the young squad.
“We have definitely been focusing on team chemistry in the offseason. We need to translate that team chemistry off the ice into making plays on the ice,” said Mullins.
And with this chemistry on lock, Harvard hopes to notch a win in its first regular season game against the Big Green and continue this positive trend moving forward.
“It’s the first time the freshmen get to put on that Harvard jersey,” Larcom reminisced. “I remember when it happened for me last year. That’s always a great experience, and it's our first time in a real game situation this year, so we’re all really pumped up for that."
Harvard topped the Big Green in both matchups last year, winning 5-1 and 2-1, and looks to continue its success against its Hanover-based rival on Friday.
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