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If you told a hockey fan of yesteryear that in 1978 there would occur a Women's Beanpot Tourney in ice hockey, he might have gone for the men in the white suits to come and take you away.
Nobody's laughing anymore.
"I don't know how good we'll be, but if the group we have out develops their skating skills, I think we can provide enough hockey background and knowledge to be more than competitive," says Harvard's newest coach--women's ice hockey mentor Joe Bertagna.
"The toughest problem for the team will be getting adjusted to the contact aspect of the sport," commented Tania Huber, a prime mover in organizing the women stickers. "Most of the women are going to be gun-shy initially because that puck is scary when it's blasted down the ice."
Huber and cohort Lauren Norton started a team two years ago at Concord Academy when women's ice hockey drew little more than snickers and snide remarks. But the impact of Title IX has changed all that--nobody guffawed when the fresh women tandem discussed their plans with Athletic Department officials. Indeed, prior to this year's initiative, plans for the new hockey rink (if and when it is built), included a women's ice hockey locker room.
Huber, Norton, and Winthrop House junior Nelia Worsley (I'm tempted to call her 'Gump' after that superb Hockey Hall of Fame netminder, but alas, there's no relation) approached men's coach Bill Cleary for advice and counsel. Cleary knew just the man for the task at hand--former Harvard goalie-sensation Bertagna, now the Harvard assistant sports information director.
"Joe is an excellent coach," says Huber. "I know he's still adjusting in his coaching technique in order to find the best way to handle us on ice. I think there are times when he can't really believe what he's doing, but he's super enthusiastic about the task at hand."
So are the players, who respect and admire the 26-year old's coaching expertise. Bertagna, author of what is rapidly becoming the classic textbook for netminders, "Goaltending: A Complete Handbook for Goalies and Coaches", led the Ivy League in goals against average (2.45) during the 1971-72 campaign.
The 1973 graduate from Eliot House taught history at his native Arlington High before receiving an offer to play "amateur" hockey in Italy as one of the two foreign players allowed each team. In 1975 he recorded the lowest goals against average in Italy (hey, it may not be much, but it is something you can tell your grandchildren) while leading the S.G. Cortina Doria Club to the Italian ice hockey championship. Bertagna returned to the states last year to play for a team in Wisconsin while attending Marquette's School of Journalism. But the rough and tumble semi-pro existence, complete with 12-hour bus rides, booster clubs and other low life proved too seamy for Bertagna, who turned to the typewriter instead.
A contributing writer for Hockey Magazine, Bertagna coached the Harvard hockey junior varsity to a 10-5 mark last season before obtaining his current post at 60 Boylston Street. But Bertagna, who appeared as the goalie in the hockey scenes in "Love Story," still had the coaching bug this fall.
Bertagna says that working in the Sports Service Bureau has made him more aware of what women are up against in making sports strides and adds that he hopes to make a positive contribution toward that end.
Former figure skater Lucy Wood (better noted for her role as captain of the field hockey team this fall) is among a small group of players with previous experience. Wood made headlines two years ago by playing on the fourth line for the Kirkland House intramural hockey squad.
"I watched Dartmouth's women lose to the Vermont team the other night in Hanover," says Wood, currently making the Med School interview rounds. "It's a slower brand of hockey than the men play, but I was surprised at the amount of hitting going on out there."
All the Ivy League (save Columbia) schools field squads, but Harvard won't get a crack at all of them initially because of the financial limits on traveling for a club-team.
An Ivy League women's ice hockey tourney is planned for this season, but Harvard will not take part in what Bertagna believes will be largely a developmental season for the Crimson.
Harvard will open at home with Vermont on December 11 in a nine o'clock (that's Sunday AM, early risers) start, and has slated encounters with Providence, Boston College, Boston University, Ithaca and Dartmouth.
"We'll play our games at odd times to fit in with the busy Watson schedule," says Bertagna, who is pleased by the afternoon ice time he has obtained for practices. "Many of the coaches I've been in touch with have been complaining about practices at five o'clock in the morning."
Bertagna is also pleased by the assistance rendered by men's varsity players and coaches after their practices, and by the spirit of cooperation that exists down at Watson.
"The women have to buy all their own equipment this year, but guys have been offering old skates and sticks left and right," says Bertagna.
"Guys here have been pretty cool about us so far," says Huber, who recalls whistles and cat-calls at Concord. "Hey, I curse on the ice, I get into it," adds the free spirited Tania, who admits to flashing the finger at the hecklers.
"You can't be afraid to go into the corners for the puck," says the 5-8, 120-pound Huber, who has faced off against women who were missing several front teeth. "But we'll be a pretty low keyed group this season. Hard work and enthusiasm is all you can ask for in the first year," Huber adds. "But don't worry--we'll get there."
Spoken like a true future Beanpot MVP.
JOURNALJIBES: Eliot House's "Evening with Champions" show for the benefit of the Jimmy Fund played to an SRO crowd at Watson Rink last night. Tickets still on sale for today's matinee and evening performances. Bit question is whether Master Heimert will ride the Zamboni machine again...Kirkland added the co-edtouch football crown with a 9-7 win over Winthrop earlier this week.... Quincy topped K-House in the soccer championship, pulling out a 1-0 OT thriller...Intramural hoop and hockey to start slates right after Thanksgiving.
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