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In its quest to reach the Frozen Four, the Harvard women’s hockey team will rely on the impact of a savvy sextet of freshmen.
The group, featuring a rising superstar, two offensive weapons, a pair of defensive anchors and a promising injured prospect, has endeared itself to the returning teammates and seems poised to add depth, tenacity and firepower to a loaded and ambitious roster.
“They’ve stepped into the program right away,” tri-captain Nicole Corriero said. “They all have great attitudes, and seem to know what it means to be a Harvard hockey player.”
Canadian National Team member and prized recruit Sarah Vaillancourt, who will be thrust immediately into a starting role on the first line, highlights the group and stands to be one of the top rookies in all of college hockey.
“Sarah will get plenty of accolades just because she’s so talented,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “She’s tough as nails, she’s smart, and she has better hands than any kid I’ve coached.”
A native of Quebec, Vaillancourt spoke almost no English as of two years ago, but now, by all accounts, communicates flawlessly with her teammates. Vaillancourt has lead her teammates early on by her example in setting aside her highly touted status.
She even talks around the dorms apparently, as this sentiment was confirmed in Pennypacker Hall.
“When she talks about [hockey], her face lights up. I can’t imagine anyone loving it more,” roommate Meaghan Colling said.
THE MACKENZIE REPORT
The team expects to count freshman Jessica Mackenzie, a Wisconsin native, among its backline stalwarts to help fill the void left by the departure of Angela Ruggiero ’02-’04.
Much like the departed star, in the defensive zone, Mackenzie is a natural, something she developed growing up in the icy Badger State and playing hockey since age seven.
“Mackenzie is a solid defenseman who reads the game really well,” Stone said. “Very poised. She will see a lot of time for us.”
Mackenzie credits her ease on the rink to her father—a Canadian native who played semi-pro hockey after high school in the IHL—and his constant advice and companionship through her experiences with youth hockey. Now at the Division I level, Mackenzie is doing her part to vicariously fulfill a dream of her father.
“It’s cool to be playing college hockey,” Mackenzie said. “Because one thing he said: if he could go back, he’d want to play in college.”
THE STORY OF A GIRL NAMED BRADY
Laura Brady, a forward from nearby Hudson, N. H., adds a dimension of size and toughness to the squad. At 5’9, Brady is the tallest member of the team, and is already gaining a reputation for her hard-nosed, physical play.
“Laura Brady is a hardworking kid who will be a great fore-checking force on the ice,” Stone said.
With a spate of recent NCAA rule changes, ones that will have the officials emphasizing clutching and grabbing penalties, Brady will be careful about incurring violations.
“I’ve gotten quite a few penalties in my day,” Brady admitted. “But I feel like [the changes] are going to be a huge adjustment.”
This same intensity and aggressiveness—that sometimes forces Brady to the penalty box—has impressed her teammates.
“She goes 100 miles per hour, gets into the corners, gets gritty, and creates opportunities,” tri-captain Julie Chu said. “Her aggressive play makes things happen.”
MCLEAN MEAN HOCKEY MACHINE
With injuries hampering the Harvard blue line corps, the freshman defenders will provide much-needed depth and get the chance to receive immediate playing time--, including Brenna McLean.
McLean hails from Calgary, Alberta, and attended the National Sports Academy for high school, a special program that substituted hockey for gym class four days a week.
“I’m used to being on the ice seven times a week,” McLean said. “The ice times here are a little longer and a little more intense.”
In fact, McLean is a part of an influx of Canadians to the Harvard hockey program that includes Vaillancourt and winger Adrienne Bernakevitch. Part of the Canadian mindset is a comfort level and enthusiasm for hockey that rubs off on teammates,
“Brenna has an awesome attitude,” Corriero said. “She’s a hard worker and a great presence.”
Adrienne Bernakevitch, a native of Regina, Saskatchewan, was reared in the Canadian hockey tradition, much like McLean. Indeed, Bernakevitch acknowledges the similarity in their respective upbringings back home.
“She and I are alike in some ways,” Bernakevitch said. “Canadians just have a way about them.”
At Harvard, Bernakevitch joins her brother Brendan, a senior forward on the men’s team, who has helped her along this fall.
“He’s helped in getting adjusted,” Bernakevitch said. “He watches me play sometimes and gives me pointers.”
Everyone can see her potential, and at one of the wing positions, Bernakevitch will have the chance to chip in off the bench.
That’s Q for question mark. Freshman winger Susie Wilson hasn’t played intense hockey in nearly three years, since blowing out the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees in a soccer game. Most likely, Wilson will not play a key role for the Crimson’s this year.
“Susie is basically on the disabled list,” Stone explained.
Although she last played as a sophomore, she still captained the hockey team her senior year.
Still recovering from her injury and building up strength in her legs, Wilson has become an active member of the squad, participating all she can and weaving herself into the team’s social fabric.
“She’s great for team morale, always smiling, always positive,” Chu said. “It’s the next best thing to having her on the ice.”
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