And just 6:16 into the game, the Crimson (11-1-0, 9-0-0 ECAC) began to lose its grip on the top spot.
Wildcats forward Courtney Birchard capitalized just 17 seconds into a power play to give UNH (17-3-0, 9-0-0 Hockey East) an early 1-0 lead en route to a 4-1 victory.
“They exploited some of our weaknesses and got a quick goal in the first period to get a little energy behind their play,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We were sort of flat in the first two periods and came out and played our game in the third, but at that point it was too late.”
The Crimson outshot the Wildcats, 11-2, in the third period and received a late goal off the stick of junior Jenny Brine, but it was not nearly enough to overcome a 4-0 deficit. Harvard is likely to relinquish the No. 1 rank in today’s poll.
The Crimson did not look like its formerly undefeated self skating on the Olympic-size rink at UNH’s Whittemore Center. Mistakes played a part in all four Wildcats goals: the first strike came during a power play and the following three on UNH breakaways.
“Breakaways were a problem and they haven’t been all year,” senior tri-captain Caitlin Cahow said. “UNH saw that they could exploit that and we should have adjusted better.”
Sophomore goalie Christina Kessler faced just 12 shots on net—and made just eight saves—while UNH’s Kayley Herman saw 23 come her way.
“They didn’t have a lot of shots,” Stone said. “But we gave them breakaways and they capitalized.”
After the initial Wildcats score, Brine and freshman Liza Ryabkina had a number of good looks at the net, but the period ended with Harvard still trailing, 1-0. In the second frame, the Wildcats raced around the Whittemore Center’s huge sheet of ice to score two of their three breakaway goals.
On a Harvard man advantage at the beginning of the period, UNH’s Kacey Bellamy collected the puck behind her own net and found teammate Sam Faber open in the neutral zone.
Faber rushed the net and buried the shorthanded tally just 48 seconds into the stanza.
Minutes later, Wildcats defenseman Julia Marty intercepted the puck near center ice and passed it ahead to Micaela Long, who beat Kessler 1-on-1 to make the score 3-0 at the 5:22 mark.
A reinvigorated Crimson squad emerged from the locker room in the third period and began to make UNH’s 3-0 lead feel a little less comfortable than it had in the second.
“We weren’t as penalized in the third,” Cahow said. “While you never want to make [penalties] part of the outcome, [they] are always a factor...We were able to stay out of the box and get some good bids.”
After the Wildcats extended its lead to 4-0 on another breakaway just over three minutes into the frame, Harvard finally got on the scoreboard at the 9:17 mark on a score from the dynamic trio of Brine, Cahow, and junior Sarah Vaillancourt.
Vaillancourt backhanded a pass to Cahow, who found Brine near the crease in a good position to score. Brine’s goal was her seventh of the season, which places her second on the team behind Vaillancourt.
Harvard committed just one of its five penalties in the third period while UNH was whistled for three.
“We don’t roll over and die,” Cahow said of the team’s improved third-period play. “It was a mental battle out there and we succeeded in the third period. It’s a huge accomplishment for us to know that we can be down and not give up.”
The Crimson now heads into an almost three-week layoff before resuming play with a game against Ivy League foe Cornell on Jan. 4 at Bright Hockey Center.
“We’ve had a great first half of the season and we need to remember that going into 2008,” Stone said.
—Staff writer Rebecca A. Compton can be reached at email@example.com.