The Harvard women’s ice hockey team has been a constant for me over the past two years as a Crimson sports writer. I covered it all of sophomore year and the team made it to the national championship game. I went abroad junior fall, but back on campus the wins continued. Now I am back in Cambridge and a similar situation faces the Crimson as the one when I left.
However, this weekend is a crucial turning point in the season looking at where the team has been this year and how the rest of it will pan out. Harvard is facing off against Quinnipiac and Princeton, with both teams ranked in the top ten at fourth and ninth, respectively.
The Crimson did not make the top-ten cut, which is one difference between the position the team is in this weekend and the one it found itself in during the 2014-2015 national championship campaign.
Last year at this time the Quinnipiac-Princeton weekend was also a big stage setter for Harvard’s post season run. Coming into the weekend ranked fourth in the nation last season, the Crimson pulled off an overtime win against the Bobcats and dropped a 1-0 decision to the Tigers. Beating a Quinnipiac team that was ranked in the top five at the time gave Harvard the momentum to go on and win its next six games, three of them against ranked opponents.
The snowball effect continued on to foster Harvard’s winning streak, which resulted in a national championship berth. It was admittedly fun to watch and fun to cover a team that was constantly winning.
The team needs this kind of momentum during these upcoming weekend games to come out of the series with renewed energy and confidence as it moves forward into the tough part of this 2015-2016 schedule. Coming off of a win against Dartmouth has already started to push the team in the right direction, but it will be Friday and Saturday’s matches against some of the stronger ECAC teams that will show whether or not Harvard has what it takes to make a legitimate run at the national title once again.
The win over the Big Green snapped the end of a three game skid, during which the Crimson was shut out twice. Beginning both Friday and Saturday’s games with a strong offensive push in order to set the tone on home ice is extremely important, as the offensive pressure has been lacking in the opening five minutes of the past two matchups.
Persistent injuries have been a common theme for the team since returning from the break, which has forced head coach Katey Stone to play around with the lineup and skating lines more than she has had to in the past.
The lack of synchrony among the lines has resulted in an increase in turnovers, which have been costly to the team in games against ranked opponents. Getting the puck deep into the opponent’s’ zone and minimizing turnovers on the blue line are aspects of Harvard’s game that need to stay constant this weekend against teams that will find ways to capitalize on any and all mistakes.
Yet the Crimson is familiar with this weekend’s foes. This will be the second weekend series played against Quinnipiac and Princeton this season, having previously faced off against both on the visitor’s side of the ice the weekend of Dec. 4 and 5. Both games resulted in 2-1 overtime losses, results that Harvard is eager to avenge in the upcoming faceoff.
Following this weekend series Harvard is set to face off against top ranked Boston College in the Beanpot, a team that the Crimson has seen regularly throughout the past two years. Currently, the Eagles are on a 27-game win streak. They have not lost a single contest since a playoff defeat by the Crimson last year.
Harvard versus BC games are always tough match ups; fun to watch and fun to cover. I have seen my fair share of upsets and losses between the rivalry just in these past two years of covering the team.
Both teams always bring their A-game, giving the Crimson even more of an incentive to win this weekend’s match ups against Quinnipiac and Princeton to go into the first round Beanpot game against BC with momentum.
The Eagles have been sitting atop the national standings for quite some time with their undefeated record, just as they were when Harvard pulled off a 3-2 victory in last year’s Beanpot.
The Crimson has 120 minutes of ice time between now and then, here’s to the repeat.
-Staff Writer Ariel Smolik-Valles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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