Suddenly and unceremoniously, the Christina Kessler Era is over for the Harvard women’s hockey team. The standout senior goaltender tore her ACL during practice last week, ending her season and college career. There’s plenty of hockey left for Kessler, who is on the Canadian Under-22 team and will likely be a national team fixture for years to come, but her loss deals the Crimson (10-5-4, 8-5-2 ECAC) a devastating blow. The squad faces the ECAC playoff hunt and seeks an NCAA Tournament bid with untested rookie Laura Bellamy starting between the pipes and junior Kylie Stephens returning to the squad as a backup.
Kessler’s tenure with Harvard ends with her name scribbled all over the school and NCAA record books. She holds the Crimson’s all-time wins and shutout marks with 64 and 25, respectively. In her sophomore year, Kessler notched 12 shutouts—at the time an NCAA record (Wisconsin’s Jessie Vetter tallied 14 blank sheets last season). Kessler finishes her career with a .9413 save percentage, which places her just ahead of Vetter (.9407) as the NCAA’s all-time leader.
As a tribute to the decorated netminder, let's look back on the top five moments of Kessler’s career:
Kessler burst onto the college hockey scene as a rookie in 2006, picking up a pair of shutouts in her first three starts. Her clean sheet against the Bulldogs was part of a 150-minute stretch in which the freshman held her opponents scoreless.
Playing in a platoon with Brittany Martin ’09, Kessler gave Harvard coach Katey Stone uncanny depth inside the crease.
“They’re two of the best goalies in college hockey,” Stone said after the game. “How could you have one on the bench?”
With Martin hurt during the beginning of the 2007-08 campaign, the starting goalie job was Kessler’s to lose. The Oakville, Ont. native responded emphatically, putting together a transcendent season in which she led the Crimson to a 32-2-0 record and an NCAA Frozen Four bid.
On Jan. 11, Kessler blanked St. Lawrence with a 29-save effort. The 2-0 victory capped off a three-game stretch in which Kessler shutout a trio of tough opponents: Colgate, Boston College, and the Saints. The win also tied Kessler with Ali Boe ’06 for Harvard’s single-season shutout record of seven, a mark that Kessler would soon shatter.
The Crimson’s historic 2007-08 season set a lofty and perhaps unrealistic standard for Harvard to uphold. The following season—Kessler’s junior campaign—was a disappointment for the goalie and for the Crimson as a whole, ending in overtime in the ECAC semifinals against a supposedly outclassed RPI squad.
But while Harvard hasn’t reclaimed its former dominance this season, it has performed beyond expectations considering it lost its top three scorers from last year to graduation. Prior to her injury, Kessler had been the anchor of the Crimson’s resurgence, posting a .944 save percentage and a 1.38 goals against average.
Kessler’s return to form was most evident when No. 2 Minnesota came to Cambridge for a weekend set. After the goalie shut out the Golden Gophers, 1-0, on Dec. 4, she returned to the ice the next night and repeated the feat. Harvard also couldn’t find net and settled for a tie, but the Crimson once again established itself as a national contender, with Kessler leading the charge.
The Crimson’s win over the Golden Knights was far from Kessler’s best performance of the 2007-08 season. Harvard dominated play and held Clarkson to just 13 shots, handing Kessler an easy shutout.
But the clean sheet marked Kessler’s 12th of the season and 15th of her career, extending her NCAA single-season record and tying her with Boe as the Crimson’s all-time shutout leader.
It’s doubtful that Kessler ever imagined ending her playing days for Harvard in a routine 5-1 win during the regular season in a sparsely populated Bright Hockey Center. But the Crimson’s victory over the Raiders less than two weeks ago turned out to be the last in one of the most storied careers in Harvard history.
The win wasn’t without significance. It was the 64th for Kessler, putting her one ahead of Boe as the Crimson’s all-time leader and cementing her place as quite arguably the greatest goalie in Harvard history.