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Title Defense Begins

W. Hockey Tries to Repeat without Mleczko

By Zevi M. Gutfreund, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

In the most dramatic moment of her collegiate career, sophomore Jen Botterill slammed the puck home from the right post in overtime of the 1998-99 AWCHA national championship game against New Hampshire, giving the Harvard women's hockey team it's first-ever title.

Botterill, a silver medalist on the 1998 Canadian Olympic Team, is one of the many talented Crimson who will take on the challenge of adding another AWCHA banner to the rafters of Bright Hockey Center in the 1999-2000 season.

"Winning last year makes us want it that much more this season," said Botterill, the American Women's College Hockey Alliance Tournament MVP and ECAC Rookie of the Year. "I still get thrilled just thinking about last year."

Along the way, Harvard (33-1-0, 24-1-1 ECAC) nearly doubled the previous team records for wins and goals (218). This year's squad ranks No. 1 in U.S. College Hockey Online's preseason poll. But the Crimson will be tested in the first month of the season, with road games at play No. 4 Minnesota Nov. 7and at No. 2 New Hampshire.

"The expectations are very similar to last year," said Coach Katey Stone, the ECAC Coach of the Year. "We don't expect to be a polished machine the first month of the season but we do expect everyone to work hard and do the best that they can."

One part of the machine that needs replacing is A.J. Mleczko '99 (37 g, 77 a), who will join Stone's coaching staff this season. Mleczko won the Kazmaier Award for national player of the year by setting the record for points in a season (114) and a career (257) for Division I women's hockey. And, despite injuring her shoulder in the national championship game, Mleczko delivered the game-winning assist in overtime.

"Leadership is something A.J. really brought to the table last year but we've got strong leaders in our captains as well as some younger, very dominant players," Stone said. "The one area where we'll miss A.J. most is on special teams but we feel we have the personnel to fill those holes."

Botterill (37, 51) will take Mleczko's spot as first-line center for the Crimson. Botterill played wing for Mleczko last season, but the sophomore from Winnipeg, Manitoba, has the skating and stickhandling ability to be effective from anywhere on the ice.

Botterill gained experience playing center over the summer while playing for the Canadian Under-22 Team. She was one of Harvard's four First-Team All-Americans last season while leading the nation with eight game-winning goals.

Botterill will have the luxury of dishing the puck to junior winger Tammy Shewchuk (51, 54), another First-Team All-American. Shewchuk led the nation in goal-scoring by beating her opponents to the puck and sending an endless flurry of shots on goal. Shewchuk is also Botterill's teammate on the Canadian National Team.

"Jen is a great skater and playmaker," Shewchuk said. "I just want to keep doing what I've been doing, which is score goals and set up my teammates."

Shewchuk and Botterill combined with Mleczko to score 307 points in 1998-99 on the most prolific line in the history of women's college hockey.

The third member of the top line this season will be junior winger Angie Francisco (16, 35). Francisco finished ninth in the nation in scoring last year.

"Angie is great working in traffic around the net," Shewchuk said. "She can get more rebounds than anybody I've ever seen."

Stone expects Francisco to skate onto the first line without missing a beat. Francisco earned a spot on the AWCHA All-Tournament Team by notching a hat trick in the championship game, and she saw plenty of minutes with Shewchuk and Botterill last season on a vaunted Crimson power-play unit that scored 50 goals.

"We want to keep a line extremely dominant and powerful," Stone said. "We feel that the three of them can create quite a bit of pressure on other teams as well as be very creative."

Junior Kiirsten Suurkask (11, 16) will center the second line. Suurkask was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 1997-98 but her performance was hampered by injury for most of last season. She finished strongly and joined Botterill on the Canadian Under-22 Team over the summer.

Suurkask will be flanked by co-captain Kim McManama (5, 4) and junior winger Tara Dunn (18, 14). Dunn and Suurkask each have experience at both the wing and center positions and have consistently showed flashes of brilliance together in their first two years at Harvard.

"Tara and I communicate well with each other," Suurkask said. "We play a similar style of hockey in that we like to stickhandle on offense and read the ice."

Competing for spots on the third line are co-captain Sally Maloney (2, 5) and senior Courtney Smith (1, 9), who spent last season at the blue line after scoring 15 goals and 12 assists as a forward in 1997-98. Stone will also look at freshmen Kalen Ingram, who will join the team after the field hockey season (she was the Ivy League Rookie of the Week Oct. 18), and Tracy Catlin.

Stone was able to move Smith back to forward because of her newfound depth at the blue line, although only two regulars remain from last year's squad and loses the steady play and leadership of Claudia Asano '99 (5, 7).

The anchor of the defense will be sophomore Angela Ruggiero (29, 38), a First-Team All-American who was the highest-scoring defenseman in the nation as a rookie. In addition to her scoring talent, Ruggiero is an intimidating presence who has the ability to shut down opponents' main scoring threats whenever she is not in the penalty box.

Senior Christie MacKinnon (0, 6) is another physical defenseman who will provide consistency and experience at the blue line this season.

The defense will also welcome back senior Melissa Milbert, who sat out last year after suffering a knee injury two days before the season-opener.

Milbert was expected to provide leadership to last year's team before her season was cut short.

"It's really exciting to be back," Milbert said. "We have a cohesive squad and practices are going great. Offensively we're still pretty powerful so on defense we just need to make smart decisions and it'll turn out fine. I'm looking forward to making another run at the title this year."

Stone also expects a pair of freshmen to see extensive playing time right away. Jamie Hagerman was the 1998-99 Massachusetts Defensewoman of the Year and has the size to be an imposing presence in the defensive zone. Pam Van Reesema joined Ruggiero and Francisco at the 1999 USA Hockey Women's Festival in August.

Junior defensemen Julie Rando (0, 5) and Jamie Notman (2, 2) will also compete for playing time.

Between the pipes, Harvard will rely on the services of senior Crystal Springer. Springer finished third in the ECAC with a 1.61 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, but she missed 10 games during the regular season due to a broken collarbone, which she re-aggravated in the national semifinal against Brown. Springer is one of the top goaltenders in the country, but first she must recover from last season's injuries.

Sophomore Alison Kuusisto filled in for Springer and went 11-0-0 as a rookie, a record which inlcudes the victory in the national championship game. After giving up six goals in the first 30 minutes of the Beanpot semifinal against Northeastern, Kuusisto found her rhythm in the crease and finished fifth in the conference with a 1.69 goals-against average.

With a year of experience and a national championship under her belt, Kuusisto may see significant time between the pipes even if Springer stays healthy.

The Crimson is expected to add to its 30-game winning streak as the season progresses. With many talented teams on the schedule, however, an undefeated season will be difficult. But the Crimson will not let the winning streak distract them from their main goal in 1999-2000: another national championship.

"We know we've got a target on our foreheads after winning the championship, and we have high expectations for ourselves," Maloney said. "But we're looking at this year as a new team with a fresh start. We haven't accomplished anything yet, but we hope to be as successful as last year."

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