PROVIDENCE, R.I.--The No. 5 Harvard women's hockey team earned its biggest win of the season against No. 2 Brown at the Bears' Meehan Auditorium last night.
Sophomore winger Tracy Catlin assisted on Harvard's first goal and scored its second to pace the early scoring, and junior co-captain Jennifer Botterill added a pair insurance goals to lead the Crimson (6-3, 6-1 ECAC) to a 4-1 win over the Bears (5-2, 3-2).
Harvard struck first five minutes into the second period. With Brown transitioning onto the attack, Catlin dished the puck off the boards to co-captain Angie Francisco at the blueline behind the Bear defense. Francisco coolly approached Brown goaltender Pam Dreyer on the breakaway and pushed the puck through the five-hole.
The Crimson could not sustain its lead for even a minute, however. The Bears pressed forward on the attack immediately after the Harvard goal and tied the game when Brown defender Cassie Turner set up Bear center Courtney Johnson in the right side of the crease.
But Catlin made another huge play to give Harvard the lead for good.
"Tracy did an awesome job, playing really gritty," said Harvard Coach Katey Stone. "She's going as fast as she can. She has been the biggest surprise of the season thus far for us."
Taking the puck from the blueline, Brown played Catlin to pass and let her skate unobstructed towards the goal. She took advantage of Brown's lax coverage, flipping the puck into the opposite corner of the net for the lead.
"The goalie thought I was going to pass it, so the backhand really caught her by surprise," Catlin said. "Actually I was still debating whether to pass or shoot it."
Brown's best chance to tie the game came with just over a minute left in the second period. Bear winger Kristy Zamora, who had plagued the Crimson in the past, stole the puck from defender Jaime Notman on the blueline and broke in with a two-on-one. But Harvard freshman goaltender Jessica Ruddock held strong, tipping Zamora's shot over the net to preserve the lead.
Ruddock earned the start over Kuusisto for the third time in the last five games. She did not disappoint, making 26 saves. In the third period, she stopped Brown winger Christina Sorbara on a breakaway, and earlier had the presence of mind to pick up a loose puck that Francisco nearly knocked into the Harvard net.
"Right now Ruddock's pretty steady and she doesn't give up a lot of rebounds, so we decided to go with the kid who could control the puck better," Stone said. "This young kid needs to have some pressure games to see what she's made of, and she's solid, definitely."
Harvard's top forward line finally broke through for a goal midway into the third period after a night of near-misses. Botterill and senior forward Tammy Shewchuk, who each had been stopped with open looks at the net earlier in the period, teamed up for the goal.
From the left corner, Shewchuk fed Botterill in front. Botterill stickhandled past a defender, moved across the slot, and flipped a backhander into the opposite corner to put Harvard up 3-1.
"Their goalie had a fine game," Shewchuk said. "They did a great job keeping the front of the net clear. But we knew if we kept plugging away things would eventually go our way."
Brown, after looking offensively challenged in the first period, stepped up and outshot the Crimson, 17-12, for the rest of the game. The Bears had a number of scoring chances late in the game, sending several pucks across the crease, but failed to connect. Botterill scored an empty-net goal in the final minute to ice the Harvard win.
"We've got a lot of great kids," Stone said. "I was sitting there thinking in the third period at a play stoppage that I love this team because every kid's a player, and that's the first time we've had that in seven years."
In the scoreless first period, only Harvard's top line managed to produce consistent offensive pressure, as the Crimson outshot Brown 15-7. Harvard was so dominant that Crimson line changes were the only time when the Bears were able to sustain any kind of puck control during the period. Harvard's best scoring chance of the period came on a delayed penalty, when Notman drew a cross-check from Brown winger Kathleen Kauth. On the play, Botterill had a clean shot at a loose puck just a yard outside the net, but a bad bounce caused her to whiff.
Senior Tara Dunn, playing in her first game since sustaining a concussion in practice, became Harvard's newest addition to the defense. It was the first game she had ever played at the blueline. Early in the first period, she cut-off speedy Brown center Kim Insalaco on a near-breakaway.
"Tara Dunn made such a difference in our game today," Stone said. "She was the difference. We controlled the defensive zone more than we have in any other game. She's smart, she sees the entire ice, and she's an offensive threat too. She just might find a home there."
The first period was uneventful for Ruddock until the final three minutes, when Harvard coughed up the puck in its own end. Brown center Meredith Ostrander took a shot from point-blank range marked for an open part of the net, but the Harvard netminder was able to dive down and knock the puck away with her pads.
Harvard will look to build on last night's victory at No. 4 St. Lawrence on Saturday. The Saints are coming off of a tie at No. 1 Dartmouth and will be looking to avenge a 7-3 thrashing at the hands of the Crimson in the ECAC Quarterfinals last season.
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