Double Vision: Kessler’s steady hand, offensive pressure help Crimson top Duluth

Meghan T. Purdy

Sky-high fan expectations followed Christina Kessler to Harvard and the freshman from Oakville, Ont. did little to disappoint on Saturday, posting her second shutout in three career starts.

A goaltending change failed to stop the Harvard women’s hockey team’s power play. So did the loss of two of the Crimson’s top players.

Facing No. 7 Minnesota/Duluth (9-6-1, 9-4-1 WCHA) Saturday at Bright Hockey Center for the second consecutive night, No. 5 Harvard (11-1-0, 9-1-0 ECAC) harried the Bulldogs during 11 power play opportunities with 23 shots, converting three of them in a 4-0 win.

“With a team like Duluth that’s so strong and fast,” junior defenseman Caitlin Cahow said, “It’s important to strike early and not to wear ourselves down playing against the tough penalty kill.”

Cahow did just that for the Crimson. A little over eight minutes into the game, a body-checking penalty on Bulldogs senior center Noemie Marin gave Harvard the man advantage. Duluth freshman goalkeeper Kim Martin knocked away co-captain Julie Chu’s shot, but Cahow corralled the rebound and tucked the puck behind Martin into the net—only nine seconds into the power play.

After its aggressive play to open the game, Harvard eased up after Cahow’s goal. By the time the first period ended, the Bulldogs had outshot the Crimson, 9-8.

Between periods, Harvard coach Katey Stone pressed the team for greater effort.

“I told them if something good was going to happen, they needed to earn it,” she said after the game. “In the last eight minutes of the first period, we hadn’t [earned it].”

Harvard upped its level of play in the second period, with Chu and sophomore forward Sarah Vaillancourt taking numerous shots. Again, at the 9:55 mark, Cahow capitalized, knocking in a Vaillancourt rebound for her second goal of the game.

“We got the goals we wanted last night, the second and third-chance opportunities against Martin,” Stone said. “She’s going to make the first save and we were hoping for some of those rebounds.”

The next few moments were scary for Crimson fans. Chu—the current team leader in points—was tripped up by Marin when she collapsed in pain to her hands and knees. After being checked out by the trainer and diagnosed with an ankle sprain, Chu returned the bench in the third period in sweats. According to Stone, Chu will probably miss Tuesday’s game against Connecticut.

Sophomore Jenny Brine replaced Chu on the team’s top line, joining Vaillancourt and sophomore Sarah Wilson, and promptly made her presence felt on a Harvard power play with 1:13 remaining in the frame. Brine followed up an offering by senior forward Katie Johnston directly in front of the goal and slapped the puck into the right corner of the net.

Going into the third period down, 3-0, Duluth substituted senior goalie Riitta Schaublin, the team’s starter for the last few years, for Martin. The Bulldogs came out aggressively in the third period and only several diving saves from freshman goalie Christina Kessler, making her first home start, preserved the shutout.

Midway through the period, Wilson left the game a tweaked neck, leaving Vaillancourt as the only player still in the game from the starting line. As time ran out, the Crimson mounted a final flurry of offense.

A tripping call on UMD gave Harvard a power play and Vaillancourt put the puck between Schaublin’s legs for the final score of the game.

Cahow was pleased with how the team had coped with the losses of Chu and Wilson.

“All season long it’s been about making the team unit work as a whole instead of going for individual stuff,” she said. “We have so much firepower on this team, we’re getting points from everyone.”