The rookie goalie made 30 saves in leading the seventh-ranked Harvard women’s team to a 3-0 victory over No. 10 Princeton (10-8-2, 8-4-1 ECAC) at Bright Hockey Center on Friday night in its first contest of 2007. The shutout was Kessler’s third in six career starts and the first since she blanked the Tigers, 5-0, on Nov. 25 in Princeton.
Although it should have been sophomore Brittany Martin’s turn to mind net, under Crimson coach Katey Stone’s recent alternating goalie system, Kessler’s 30-save whitewash in New Jersey a month and a half earlier moved Stone to give her back-to-back starts.
“When you beat a team, 5-0, it’s already in their head, so might as well go with it,” Stone explained. “We talked about it with our goalie coach and he said, ‘It’s hard to argue with a 5-0.’ That’s pretty intimidating, you played that kid once and she shut you down.”
“After playing them the first time I sort of got a feel for what they’re like,” Kessler added. “And I guess it made it easier the second time. I knew what to expect.”
Kessler’s most recent outing, in the Crimson’s stinging 4-1 defeat at the hands of archrival Dartmouth just prior to the winter recess, 20 days before the Princeton clash, was also on her mind as she took the ice on Friday. Kessler suffered the first loss of her collegiate career against the Big Green, and was decisively outplayed by fellow freshman netminder Carli Clemis.
“After a tough loss against Dartmouth,” Kessler said, “I had to shape it up. I have been thinking about it, but it’s my first year so obviously we make mistakes, but as Coach says, ‘It’s how you bounce back.’ I really took that to heart.”
The teams played the first period in a scoreless stalemate, as the puck rarely left the neutral zone and the referees whistled only one penalty in the entire frame. Harvard could not convert its lone special teams opportunity, and the Tigers seized the bulk of possession coming out of the locker rooms for the second period.
But the game turned on the Crimson’s second power play, technically four seconds after the man advantage had expired. As the Princeton defense was resetting, Harvard cycled the puck down to sophomore Jenny Brine near the right post. Brine beat Tigers goalkeeper Brittany Parisi with a sharp wrister, giving the Crimson a 1-0 lead and pushing the forward’s nation-leading totals to 20 goals and six game-winners.
A sudden flurry of penalty calls in an otherwise loosely called game allowed Harvard to build a two-goal cushion less than three minutes later. A checking violation by Princeton captain Kim Pearce just 22 seconds after offsetting holding calls were assessed to Lindsay Weaver and Lizzie Keady gave the Crimson a 4-on-3 edge. With the Tigers penalty kill packed in tight in front of the net, co-captain Julie Chu had plenty of room to rifle a slapshot from the point. The team’s other co-captain, Jennifer Sifers, completely screened Parisi on the play, and the puck sailed into the cage top shelf.
“When we get opportunities like that,” Chu said of Harvard’s extra-skater chances, “we want to capitalize, especially in a game when you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities to play on the power play.”
Stone, though, was disappointed with the laissez faire officiating.
“I think it was too physical,” she said. “I’d like to see the game called a little tighter, to be honest. Two tough, competitive teams going at it and fortunately nobody got hurt and we got the better of them in the power-play situations.”
Kessler endured Princeton’s fiercest pressure in the final frame, as the Tigers took 17 shots on goal, the most dangerous of which came on a solo breakaway by Pearce late in the period, but the youngster was equal to the challenge. The Crimson, by comparison, managed only two shots over the last 20 minutes.
“Princeton is a great team and they kept battling,” Chu said. “They had a bit of jump in the second and in the third they kept playing hard. We [relied] on our goalie. She played well for us and made the key saves.”
Harvard played without missed standout sophomore winger Sarah Vaillancourt, who was touring abroad with Team Canada. Vaillancourt’s absence placed more of the onus on Chu, who finished with a goal and an assist, to instigate the offense.
“I love playing with Sarah,” Chu said. “You can’t replace a talented played like that who can pretty much do anything. You miss that, but at the same time, we have so many talented players on the team and to get some of the freshmen in there...I think that was great.”
Sophomore Sarah Wilson added an empty-net goal with 62 seconds remaining to go with her second-period assist.
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.