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Crimson Tops Golden Gophers

By John R. Hein, Crimson Staff Writer

Now that the Harvard women’s hockey team has climbed to the top spot in the nation as well as the ECAC, only one thing is for sure: the hunter has become the hunted.

The Crimson earned the No. 1 ranking with its weekend sweep of No. 4 St. Lawrence. But the wins in no way guarantee immunity to the Frozen Four, held this year in Providence, R.I.

“Any given team on any given day, regardless of their seeding, is going to put up a fight,” junior forward Nicole Corriero said. “It makes the bull’s eye on us that much bigger.”

In the most recent U.S. College Hockey Online (USCHO) poll, Harvard (22-2-1, 12-2-0 ECAC) ranked first, receiving 12 of the 15 first place votes. Last week’s top team, No. 2 Minnesota (22-4-2), received the remaining three.

Though pleased with the praise, the team keeps the latest poll in perspective.

“More than anything, what the No. 1 seed does for us…is give us more security,” Corriero said. “The more security you can get, the better you are.”

Securing a spot for the Frozen Four will be difficult for any team, considering this past weekend.

Minnesota fell from its perch as the top team in the nation when then-unranked Ohio State tied the Golden Gophers 1-1 in overtime Friday before falling to Minnesota 6-0 on Saturday. That same weekend, No. 3 Dartmouth dropped a game to No. 8 Princeton.

The most recent poll reflects this year’s intense competition. With only the top four teams in the nation qualifying for the Frozen Four, three teams are in a tight race for the next two spots. Only one point separates the Big Green (18-5-2), No. 4 St. Lawrence (20-7-1) and No. 5 Wisconsin (20-5-3).

“Especially in a year like this where the No. 1 ranking has flopped around so much, ultimately, the key is for four teams to get Providence,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We want to be one of those four teams and we’ll see what happens when we get there.”

This situation lends even more importance to Harvard’s game this Friday against Dartmouth, for both schools, but most especially the Big Green.

The Crimson sits atop the ECAC standings with 24 points in 14 conference games. Dartmouth is tied with Brown at fourth with 21 points.

Interestingly enough, this weekend marked the first time Harvard swept St. Lawrence since the championship season.

The Crimson’s has been a quiet and unheralded ascent to the No. 1 spot. Though last year’s team was touted by Stone as the best she’d ever coached, Harvard rode a 14-week streak as the nation’s top team only to lose to Dartmouth in the ECAC championship game and in the national championship to Minnesota-Duluth.

Unlike last year’s team, however, this year’s squad presents a more balanced attack on both ends of the ice. This is by far Harvard’s best team in terms of balanced scoring and defense.

Last season, the scoring was concentrated in three players—Jennifer Botterill ’02-‘03, sophomore Julie Chu and co-captain Angela Ruggiero, who racked up point totals of 112, 93 and 83, respectively. The next highest point-getter for the Crimson was Corriero (39).

This year, however, individual scoring has been replaced by a more united front on the offensive attack. Corriero leads the team with 53 points, and the largest gap between two consecutive scorers is 13 points. Chu has 42 points on the year while co-captain Lauren McAuliffe has tallied 29. Last season, the largest gap was 44 points by year’s end, and was between Ruggiero and Corriero.

“It’s a good mentality in there,” Stone said. “It’s not just one person, it’s everybody pulling the wagon.”

And Harvard doesn’t mind not having the same type of pressure put on the team last year.

“The expectations may not be there, but as a team we expect great things,” said sophomore goaltender Ali Boe. “Everyone is really stepping up. Last year we relied on the seniors a lot, but this year the freshman have stepped up and made huge contributions to the team.”

While the scoring this year (4.60 goals per game) is down from last year (6.47 gpg), the Crimson is still tops in the nation in this category. It also boasts the best scoring defense average—1.24 gpg—in the nation, up from last season’s 1.47 gpg. The drop in scoring makes for a lower scoring margin than last year—3.36 gpg. to 5 gpg a year ago—though the Crimson still ranks first.

One major reason for Harvard’s great defense has been the rise of Boe. After losing senior Jessica Ruddock—forced to retire from the game due to hip injuries—Boe has filled in nicely, posting .920 save percentage. Along with freshman Emily Vitt, Harvard’s two netminders have racked up nine shutouts on the year.

“It’s comforting knowing that you just need to keep them in there and eventually they’ll find a way to score and find a way to win,” Boe said. “You just have to keep them close.”

The Crimson will look to seek revenge for its Jan. 11 defeat at the hands of the Big Green Friday night in Hanover, as well as take one step closer to the Frozen Four.

“We’re trying to execute our game plan, not to be the No. 1 team in the country, but earn our way to Providence to compete for a national championship,” Stone said. “Once we get to Providence then we’ll take care of business hopefully and get things going.”

—Staff writer John R. Hein can be reached at hein@fas.harvard.edu.

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