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SCHENECTADY, N.Y.—There was only one thing on Harvard coach Katey Stone’s mind before the ECAC Championship game against St. Lawrence.
And it wasn’t the championship trophy, the upcoming NCAA finals or the possibility of sweeping the men and women’s conference hockey championships.
“I said to the commissioner, ‘Are there hats for the winners?’” Stone said. “Because I had never gotten a hat—wanted to play for a hat today. It’s all about this hat.”
After handily defeating the second-seeded Saints by a final score of 6-1, Stone got to joke about her wish and not only received a hat, but also a shower of Gatorade from her overjoyed players.
The Crimson had the pressure on St. Lawrence goalie and co-captain Rachel Barrie from the start, breaking through early and often on the ECAC goaltender of the year. “To turn around after playing a fairly long hockey game, to have a tremendous amount of energy, to create a ton of pressure, to play a really smart team game today, showed that everybody stepped up,” Stone said.
On Saturday, Barrie had helped stifle the powerful Dartmouth offense with a number of amazing stretching saves—but on Sunday she never seemed to be quite in her groove.
Co-captain Lauren McAuliffe found an early open opportunity to put Harvard on top, and said she knew she had to take advantage of such an open-and-shut chance on Barrie.
“I thought, is it really that wide open,” McAuliffe said. “The puck came across the crease, and if I had missed it, I would have been embarrassed.”
Against Brown, the Crimson scored an early first period goal, but couldn’t keep up the pressure enough to push another one in to extend the lead. On Sunday, Harvard focused on throwing Barrie off balance and then delivering blow after blow whenever possible. The strategy worked to a ‘t’ as the Crimson outshot the Saints 33-6 after the second period.
“We talked about momentum before the game started,” co-captain Angela Ruggiero said. “Playing in last year’s ECAC final, where the momentum wasn’t on our side, we realized once you start, you have to keep, keep, keep going, you can’t let up for a second.”
On the defensive side of the ice, sophomore Jennifer Skinner stepped up in place of junior Ashley Banfield to help lead a stifling and omnipresent Harvard defensive unit.
“It just seemed a lot of times, the pucks just weren’t going on sticks the way you would like to play it,” said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan. “It just seemed that every time that we tried to get something going they were there, with sticks in passing lanes, sticks on sticks, thwarting any attempt to get anything on goal.”
On the offensive side of the ice, Skinner helped spark the scoring with her passing and playmaking—registering assists on two of the six goals.
For the Harvard team, one of this season’s focuses has been the success of the player creating the goal rather than scoring it.
“We have this theme on our team—truly the person who set up the goal is the one who has made the best play,” Stone said. “And we recognize the playmakers by the goal scorer pointing to them right after the goal. The bottom line is let’s get a lot of pointing going on because then good things are happening.”
All afternoon, every transition chance the Saints mustered ran straight into one or another of the Crimson’s defenders. St. Lawrence’s first line of Gina Kingsbury, Chelsea Grills and Rebecca Russell was the only group that managed to the put together a string of runs on Harvard’s net. But each time they came speeding down the ice, either one of the Crimson defenders stick checked the puck away from them, or sophomore Ali Boe gobbled up the shot.
“Our forecheck, 2-3—we have to be decisive on it and no one let up,” Ruggiero said. “We were moving our feet the whole game, playing as a team, and being defensively rock solid—we almost overcompensated for the fact that we lost one of our best defensemen.”
“From being undisciplined with our systems to being undisciplined and taking some really bad penalties—penalties are one thing I guess, but the systems—that’s a real frustrating aspect of our game today,” Flanagan said. “We weren’t there mentally. Our systems have gotten us to this point. We have some players who just got away from doing what got us here. “
Before St. Lawrence could even mount a real challenge to Harvard, the game was out of reach.
After the first two lines had applied the heat, the Crimson’s depth shown through as the third and fourth line fanned the flames.
Four minutes into the second period, junior Kat Sweet took the puck up the right side of the ice and found sophomore Carrie Schroyer waiting for the perfect pass next to the net on the opposite side. Schroyer one-timed the puck into the net—extending the lead to 3-0 and sending the number Harvard fans, family and band members into a frenzy.
A period later, the fourth line stepped up into the spotlight and received the praise of the crowd. With 11 minutes left in the game, senior Mina Pell took the puck off of a face-off and—mirroring a successful move by sophomore Julie Chu earlier in the period—skated through the Saints’ defense on the right and shot the puck past Barrie for her first goal of the season.
Following the play, sophomore Jennifer Raimondi made sure to go find the referee and save the puck for her teammate.
“Today the bounces did go our way,” Chu said. “We played really hard and we earned those bounces. But they also went our way. Sometimes you play an awesome hockey game, you play out of your mind, and you lose.”
Harvard and St. Lawrence will play for the fourth time this year Friday at 5 p.m. in the NCAA Frozen Four. Harvard has taken all three games thus far and has been able to handle the Saints, leaving St. Lawrence in search of an answer.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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