The Harvard women’s hockey team, ranked ninth in the nation, will not be selected to play in the Frozen Four. The Crimson can, however, win this weekend’s ECAC North Championships, spoil host Dartmouth’s Frozen Four bid and send a message to the league for next year.
Due to the NCAA’s pairwise ranking system and lack of automatic bids, a Crimson victory in the ECAC North semi-final over No. 4 Dartmouth (25-5-2) on Saturday will not be enough to propel them into the Frozen Four. Nonetheless, a victory over the top-seeded Big Green, followed by a victory over either St. Lawrence or Brown in the final would silence the naysayers who underestimated the team without its Olympians.
“A lot of people wrote us off this year,” Haravrd senior goalie Alison Kuusisto said. “They didn’t even think we’d get this far. We are at our pinnacle.”
Harvard (20-10-2) will have its hands full. The Crimson enters the game 0-2 to Darmouth this season, having dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions to the Big Green. Last year, Harvard lost to Dartmouth in the ECAC North finals, 3-1.
“Darmouth is our arch-nemesis,” Kuusisto said.
Darmouth boasts the nation’s most potent offense, averaging 4.8 goals per game, compared with sixth-placed Harvard at 3.5. Leading Darmouth’s offense is junior center Carly Haggard, an Ivy League co-MVP and the nation’s leading scorer. Haggard leads the nation in goals, assists and points per game.
Held scoreless in the teams’ first encounter, Haggard recieved a game misconduct. In the second go-around, she chipped in with an assist and the game-winning goal.
Senior forwards Kristin King and Kim McCullough, with 35 and 34 points respectively, round out the Big Green attack.
Harvard is not without its scorers. Freshman winger Nicole Corriero, the Ivy League rookie of the year, is second behind Haggard in points per game and goals per game, and leads rookies in most offensive categories. Junior center Kalen Ingram has matched Haggard’s 1.1 assists per game as the Corriero-Ingram combination has accounted for much of the Crimson offense this year.
Dartmouth has been one of the few teams with success at keeping the Crimson in check. Harvard averages 10.1 more shots than its opponents, yet the Big Green outshot the Crimson 25-20 and 35-29. Corriero and Ingram were limited to one point each against Dartmouth.
“We have to capitalize on the fact that we’re in better shape then they are,” said junior center Tracy Catlin, one of Harvard’s most talented offensive players. “We have to be faster to the puck, use our speed to score more.”
The Crimson offense features the nation’s best power play, converting 25 percent of its opportunities. Against Dartmouth, Harvard went a combined one-for-10 on the power play.
Containing the vaunted Dartmouth offense will have to be Harvard’s top priority. The Big Green outshoots its opponents by a daunting average of 20 shots per game.
As a result, much of Harvard’s success will depend on the performance of Kuusisto, who along with forward Vanessa Bazzocchi will end her Harvard career this weekend.
Against lesser opponents, Kuusisto has not faced many shots all year, and welcomes the pressure Dartmouth may bring.