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It had been 363 days since Harvard last won a game in overtime. The women's hockey team could not have picked a better time to end the streak.
"We're fortunate to have big-game players," Harvard Coach Katey Stone said. "Botts, Tammy, Kalen, and Kiirsten all came to play today."
Junior co-captain Jennifer Botterill scored 6:35 into the first overtime to lift the No. 6 Crimson over No. 9 Northeastern 4-3.
"Botterill was in the right spot at the right time and she knows how to finish," Stone said. "That's just a great testament to her feel for the game."
The last time Harvard skated off the ice with an overtime win was in the 2000 Beanpot final against Northeastern. Botterill pocketed the OT winner that night on a beautiful feed from senior winger Tammy Shewchuk.
It is the third straight year that Harvard has defeated Northeastern in the Beanpot with a goal from Botterill in overtime.
"Northeastern is a great team and they've had a hold on the Beanpot for a long time," Stone said. "I'm very, very proud that we've continued to dominate the Beanpot for the last three years."
A year between overtime victories was a long stretch, however, especially for a team that once prided itself on being able to win the tight games when it mattered most.
In the Crimson's 1999 national championship run, Harvard won all five overtime games in which it played. The run included 5-4 and 6-5 OT victories against New Hampshire in both the ECAC finals and the national championship game.
"In 1999 we had a really special team," Shewchuck said. "We had a lot of attitude that year, and I think we have it back this year. We had the feeling that no matter what challenge we face we'll overcome it."
But the overtime magic that led the Crimson to its first national championship and a 33-game winning streak in 1999 has been absent for a while now. Last night's thriller may just be the spark Harvard needs to bring those memories back into reality.
"When we come out with a victory like this, you rekindle some of that old feeling," Botterill said. "You just believe in yourself, pull through in tough circustances and it brings back some of those memories."
The Crimson skated with the confidence of a contender last night and barely resembled the team that just lost its first game in three years to an unranked opponent on Sunday.
Even after a series of horrendous defensive collapses in the second period, there was little doubt on the Harvard bench that it could overcome a 3-1 deficit entering the third.
"We've been in that position before," Stone said. "We can handle it. We didn't doubt our ability to come back."
A pair of goals 1:34 apart from Botterill and senior winger Kiirsten Suurkask five minutes into the third put the Crimson immediately back in the game.
Suurkask's marker was arguably the most symbolically important goal Harvard has scored all year. With seven goals on the season, Suurkask is the leading scorer on Harvard's second line, but going into last night, she had not scored in 17 straight games.
It was a streak that Harvard needed to end if it was going to contend in the playoffs, and it is hard to think of a more important game in which Suurkask could have ended that drought.
Botterill's overtime winner may have been the flashy headline, but Harvard's second line was the story behind the win. Senior forward Tara Dunn--who was moved from defense to replace injured co-captain Angie Francisco centering the second line--did not factor on the score sheet but played a great game nonetheless.
"They do it every night," Shewchuck said. "It's something that's generally overlooked, but that line does everything they're supposed to do. It's nice to see Kiirsten Suurkask get a goal, because she's one of the hardest working people out there."
In overtime, Suurkask was once again the unheralded hero. With Shewchuk in the box, Suurkask fed Botterill for the long breakout pass that resulted in the game winner. She did not pick up an assist on the play but was still instrumental in setting up Botterill.
Harvard will need that kind of performance from both its second and third lines if it is going to suceed in the home stretch.
"Some people think they can shut one or two people down," Stone said. "It is not that simple. We have a lot of weapons. Our third line--they were the best three players on the ice for the first two periods of the game. They executed perfectly. It allowed our first two lines to keep their legs into the third period."
Depth is even more important in the playoffs.
For the last three seasons, Harvard's fate in the playoffs has been decided in overtime. In the 1998 and 2000 postseasons, the Crimson bowed out with overtime losses to New Hampshire and Dartmouth respectively in the ECAC tournament.
During the 1999 title run, it was a different story. Harvard won those nail-biters, just like it did last night.
Heading into its upcoming showdown with No. 1 Dartmouth this Saturday, Harvard needs every ounce of mental confidence it can muster. The Crimson is 7-2 in overtime games over the past three seasons. Its only two losses have come at the hands of the Big Green.
It was Dartmouth that originally shattered the layer of invincibility that once exemplified Harvard hockey. Dartmouth ended the Crimson's 33-game winning streak with a 5-4 OT victory, and it was the Big Green again who ended Harvard's season last March with a 3-2 OT win in the ECAC semifinals.
Harvard's current four-game losing streak against Dartmouth started, ironically, on the night the Crimson raised its 1999 national championship banner to the rafters. Until Harvard proves to itself that it can beat the Big Green, however, the swagger, the confidence and magic won't return.
Not to downplay the Crimson's third consecutive Beanpot title because it was a tremendous accomplishment, but it was only one step in Harvard's journey back to the nation's elite.
Northeastern is the only team to have defeated Dartmouth all year, and having just defeated the Huskies in overtime is an automatic confidence booster heading into this weekend's showdown.
"For us to win a game of this magnitude is huge," Stone said. "It makes these kids understand that no matter what the situation, we're going to adjust and figure out a way to win. It's gotta be a confidence builder."
After sinking to its lowest national ranking in almost three years following a 3-1 loss to Princeton only three days ago, the Beanpot championship last night could be the moment Harvard looks back on after the season as a turning point.
All Harvard needs to do now is follow it up with a win Saturday against Dartmouth. That will be no easy task, but Harvard hockey has never been about winning the easy games. The Crimson made a name for itself pulling victories out of possible disaster, just as it did last night.
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