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For the third straight year, the Harvard women’s hockey team returns to the ice after graduating the previous year’s Patty Kazmaier Award winner for most outstanding player in college hockey. Unlike in past years, however, this loss leaves space not easily patched.
“Losing a player like Angela Ruggiero ’02-’04 makes certainly a tough space to fill,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “It’s not about trying to fill that space. It might just be about trying to build up on other areas as well.”
In Ruggiero’s absence, Harvard returns senior Ashley Banfield and sophomore Lindsey Weaver—who is currently recovering from injury—as its primary defensemen. Last year, both players shared the majority of the time on the back line with Ruggiero, and now will probably move up to start.
Over the past two years, Banfield has developed into one of the Crimson’s more dependable blueliners—marking and shutting down opponents’ key weapons.
“She’s one of the smartest defensemen in the country,” Stone said. “I’m very glad she’s doing as well as she’s doing at this point. Ashley is really good at communicating with her teammates one-on-one.”
Stone also noted that freshman Jessica Mackenzie will see a lot of playing time with her more experienced elders.
“After last year, we know what it takes to win a championship and we know what it feels like to lose one,” Banfield said.
One of those factors is good goaltending, and Harvard returns a steadfast tandem in junior Ali Boe and sophomore Emily Vitt, who together allowed only 1.25 goals per game last year.
The Crimson will also focus on maintaining scoring intensity. In addition to Ruggiero, the Crimson also lost front-liner Lauren McAuliffe ’04 and veteran Mina Pell ’04, but still retains many of its scoring threats and has added yet another.
“We need to stay healthy, that is the most important priority in our program,” Stone said.
This is most important for Harvard early on in the season because the team will be playing with a smaller squad due to sophomore Katie Johnston finishing her time with the soccer team and tri-captain Julie Chu and freshman Sarah Vaillancourt with the Four Nations’ Cup.
When Harvard skates down the ice on offense, one of the most experienced playmakers in all of college hockey will be anchoring the center of its main line.
Chu—a member of the U.S. National Team—centers the Crimson’s first line with Canadians Vaillancourt and Corriero on either side.
Last year, Chu and Corriero—who played together for a majority of the season—accounted for 57 goals and 72 assists.
“I think with the speed of our forwards we are going to have a lot of offensive opportunities and see offensive production from a wide range of people,” Chu said.
This year, along with Vaillancourt, they will look to continue in the Harvard tradition of having one of the most dangerous offenses in all of Division I.
“[Our first line] should prove to be one of the two most potent, I hope, in college hockey,” Stone said. “I know one that is happening out in Minnesota, in the twin cities, but these guys are pretty good.”
The other option that Harvard has considered is splitting the talent on this first line amongst a number of more even-strength lines. After testing this strategy against Dartmouth in a recent scrimmage, the Crimson moved towards consolidating the three stars and trying to maintain powerful second and third lines that can also put the puck in the back of the net.
“Either split them all up and make three even lines or you just go for it,” Stone said, “and I think we’re just going to go for it now and see how it works. They have only been together for two days and its pretty fun to watch.”
“I think we are going to be a very good team because there is great team chemistry, and the kids are working extremely hard—which is always a trademark of our program,” Stone said.
Last year, Harvard’s third line of offense—led by current tri-captain Kat Sweet—gave the Crimson a balanced attack that left opponents with no room to breath.
Sweet scored seven goals last year—which might not compare to the overwhelming numbers of Chu or Corriero, but provided Harvard with a powerful forecheck—just what it needed to be one of the best teams in college hockey.
“What made us so good last year was our third line,” Stone said. “We had the best third line in college hockey by far. The same thing should happen again this year. When you have that, there is just a whole other level of confidence.”
“I felt the same way last year as I do this. It wasn’t until Christmas and we were playing Duluth that I thought, wow, we are pretty good,” Stone continued. “I wasn’t sure up until that point, and so I think it’s going to be very similar. I think we are going to be good, but good is the enemy of great.”
“Regardless of what we’re doing, whether it’s our brutal 300 yard shuttle test, or tough dry-land conditioning, everyone was so positive and enthusiastic, really motivating one another and encouraging each other, and putting 100 percent in everything they did,” said tri-captain Nicole Corriero.
Harvard starts its quest for greatness this weekend at Bright Hockey Center against Colgate and Cornell.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at email@example.com.
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