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SCHENECTADY, N.Y.—It was the perfect playoff atmosphere—a lively crowd living and dying with every play of a grueling 1-1 Harvard-Brown semifinal in its first overtime Saturday afternoon.
As the Crimson went on the attack in the Bears’ zone, junior Ashley Banfield skated along the far end of the right-side boards—goaltender Katie Germain’s left—seeking control of a puck that had squirted out of reach. At the same time, Brown’s Myria Heinhuis skated over to check Banfield and fight for possession of the puck.
The crowd cheered as the two players battled it out on the side. Finally, Heinhuis saw an opportunity to knock the puck away, and took swipe at the puck from in between Banfield’s legs. As the puck came free, co-captain Angela Ruggiero gained possession, finding a clear path to the net. Instead, she stopped in her tracks, turning back to her teammate in a selfless act that sacrificed an opportunity to be the game’s hero but embodied the team spirit that has driven Harvard this far into the postseason. In short, Ruggiero did just what any good captain, teammate, and friend would have done—she went to look after her own before looking out for herself.
Heinhuis’ stick had slipped underneath Banfield’s skates, and in her attempt to slap away the puck, she inadvertently undercut Banfield’s balance and pushed back on her with her right arm, sending the Crimson defenseman momentarily airborne and helpless. After her back hit the ice flat, Banfield’s head swung back and her helmet slammed into the ice at 6:12 in the first overtime. One twitch, and then she lay motionless. After Ruggiero stopped and turned, the official blew the whistle and a stifling silence blanketed the crowd at Union’s Achilles Arena.
“I talked to the ref after and he just said that they both kind of went in really hard and when she went down, she went straight back. And that’s why they think she hit her head,” said Brown coach Digit Murphy. “That’s why they think she was out and a little bit convulsing. I talked to [Harvard coach Katey Stone] and she had said at least she was moving. Hopefully she’s not out for good.”
Ruggiero and the official signaled for assistance. Trainers and coaches sped toward where Banfield lay, as players and spectators looked on. As the on-ice assistance crowded around Banfield in an effort to stabilize her, senior Mina Pell skated out with a blanket for her teammate she received from the locker room. The referees followed the example, bearing blankets of their own.
Ruggiero joined co-captain Lauren McAuliffe, junior Kat Sweet and Pell hovering around their teammate, then taking a knee. The Brown skaters on the ice followed suit, while their bench joined the crowd in attentively watching for a sign from Banfield. Germain skated off ice out of respect.
“People were just talking about Ash. I think there were a couple prayers in there. So it was team support, just as a group,” Ruggiero said.
Over 15 minutes in silence later, those attending to Banfield thought her well enough to be moved off the ice and onto a stretcher. As she was wheeled away, Banfield moved her arm as skaters banged their sticks in respect while the crowd applauded in unison. In Banfield’s absence, both teams started passively before Harvard’s offense emerged rejuvenated for the remainder of the first overtime. In the locker room, little was said about Banfield, but she was on everyone’s mind.
“I don’t think we really had to say much. Our hearts were with Ash as she was leaving the ice, and we felt that going into the second overtime,” Ruggiero said. “I think every individual on the team was really playing for her at that point...It was more of a feeling we felt going into the second.”
That feeling led to the Crimson’s second extra period dominance of Brown, culminating in freshman Katie Johsnton’s squeaker goal to seal the victory and the Bears’ season.
In the second period of the St. Lawrence’s 4-2 semifinal victory over Dartmouth, the crowd applauded when the arena’s announcer reported that Banfield was said to be okay and recovering. Later, word reached the arena from Ellis Hospital that Banfield would be released Saturday night but would not play in the championship game the next day.
Understandably, the hard-earned exhausting victory was in a way tainted by the incident, but not fought in vain.
“That certainly changes things—the euphoria of the moment isn’t quite as strong,” Stone said. “The main focus at this point is to get some rest and to make sure these guys’ teammate is alright.”
On Sunday, Banfield was in attendance. She sat with the fans during warm-ups but took her place on the bench without suiting up. After the game, she joined in the on-ice festivities.
“We came around the corner [to the locker room] and she was the first one sitting there,” sophomore Julie Chu said. “You could tell it was tough sitting there but she was being strong for us. To know she’s there and she wants to be out there as much as any of us, and she’s our teammate through it all—whether she’s skating or not, her presence is a great part of this team.”
—Staff writer John R. Hein can be reached at email@example.com.
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