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Riding on last year’s finish tied atop the ECAC and ranked among the top teams in the nation this season, the Harvard women’s hockey team is favored both by momentum and expert opinion.
But past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, and the Crimson will look to prove good on those preseason predictions when it opens its season this weekend when it takes on Colgate and Cornell.
Harvard has been effectively untested this fall, having played only a scrimmage against Dartmouth so far, but it is well-known that it will be playing with a stacked deck.
The Crimson finished last season with a record of 30-4-1 (15-3-0 ECAC) to tie for first in the conference with St. Lawrence. It enters the 2004-05 season ranked second in the preseason ECAC coaches’ poll behind Dartmouth and third in Division I in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Women’s College Hockey Poll.
Subject to high expectations, Harvard has momentum on its side.
“The tradition is there,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We won last season, and we need to pick up where we left off.”
The team seeks to assuage the loss of three players from last year with the addition of six more.
Among the Crimson’s returning players is forward and junior co-captain Julie Chu. Last year Chu was second in the nation in assists, became Harvard’s seventh-highest scorer and was named to the All-Ivy and All-ECAC teams.
“Julie’s an impact player,” Stone said. “If she’s doing what she needs to do, things are going to work well.”
But the Crimson will need to display a well-rounded attack, and Stone emphasized the team’s need for consistency.
“We’ve got to be doing the little things well,” Stone said. “We need to play good solid defense and get to the goaltender.”
Meanwhile, Colgate comes into the season facing quite different expectations than Harvard.
The Raiders finished last season with a 16-17-3 record and entered this season facing low expectations, ranked seventh in the ECAC Coaches’ Poll.
“If we can take advantage of the fact that we’ve now played five games, if we come out with energy and enthusiasm, you never know what’s going to happen,” Colgate coach Scott Wiley said.
The Raiders started the season by splitting games against No. 8 Providence, losing 6-2 before posting a 2-1 win. They stretched their streak out to three wins, topping Quinnipiac 3-0 and Wayne State 3-2, before the latter struck back with a 4-1 win.
Colgate will hope that senior leftwinger Amanda Barre and junior forward Allison Paiano can break through against the Crimson, but in today’s match-up they will likely fall back on their own defensive talent.
The Raiders present a formidable challenge to the explosive Harvard offense, and are led by senior goalie Rebecca Lahar, a 2003-04 All-ECAC team selection with a career .905 save percentage.
Last season the Crimson struggled the most against quality goalies like Yale’s Sarah Love and St. Lawrence’s Rachel Barrie.
Ultimately, Colgate plans to bank on aggressive energy to bridge their skill gap with Harvard.
“If we get caught watching them play, it’s going to be a long night,” Wiley said. “It’s not always the best team that wins—it’s the team that plays best. We have to dictate the plays the best we can and capitalize on the opportunities we’re given.”
Harvard will wait less than a day before turning its attention to ECAC opponent the Big Red.
Against the Crimson, Cornell’s hopes lie in “surviving the first fifteen minutes,” according to Big Red head coach Melody Davidson. The Big Red is still rebuilding its program, with nine freshmen on its roster.
“Obviously we’re a young team, and while they have some freshman, they’re more experienced,” Davidson said.
Though not entirely inexperienced—it returns last season’s leading scorer, junior Jen Munhofen, among others—Cornell has yet to hit the ice in a real game. They play Brown tonight in Providence before traveling to Cambridge tomorrow.
Additionally, Cornell’s exhibition results have been mixed. The Big Red began its season with a 4-2 scrimmage loss to the Toronto Jr. Aeros, after falling behind 2-0 early in the first period. They redeemed themselves with a 4-3 win over the Mississauga Jr. Chiefs in which Cornell put up 40 shots on goal. Sophomore Caroline Scott notched two goals and an assist in the victory.
“Their line played very well, and she was able to finish off some plays from the line,” Davidson said. “They just clicked on Saturday’s game and hopefully they’ll continue to click.”
Davidson will spend time north of the border as head coach of the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team for the Turin, Italy Winter Olympics in 2006. Davidson worked as an assistant coach for Team Canada during its gold-medal performance in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Harvard topped Cornell in consecutive ECAC quarterfinal games last postseason, ending the Big Red’s year. Cornell began this season near the bottom of the conference, ranked eighth.
In an early-season game between essentially untested teams, however, “anything can happen,” Davidson said.
The Crimson agrees that its opponent will prove to be a formidable challenge.
“They’ve got a team of really good players at Cornell,” Stone said.
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