Breath of Fresh Air

Three freshmen enter the Crimson fold as a veteran women's hockey team balances its experience with an infusion of youth

Raquel Rodriguez

Freshman forward Whitney Kennedy has impressed early for Harvard, scoring a goal in the Crimson’s 3-2 exhibition win over McGill last Saturday.

As tonight’s season opener against Quinnipiac quickly approaches, the Harvard women’s hockey team prepares to take the first step towards building upon the success of last season in which the Beanpot, Ivy League, and ECAC titles all came to Cambridge.

While all but four Crimson players are returning for the 2008-09 campaign, Harvard has been infused with new energy in the form of freshmen forwards Ling Ling Lok, Alisa Baumgartner, and Whitney Kennedy.

“We have three new freshmen who are going to do a good job for us,” Harvard coach Katey Stone says. “They immersed themselves pretty quickly and all have different strengths and hopefully, they will all get to see a fair amount of ice time. They’re great kids, they work really hard, and I think they fit into the group pretty well.”

“They’ve been bonding really well with the team so far,” adds tri-captain and forward Sarah Vaillancourt, “and I think that’s what defines the program...[players that have] talent that also have to fit in with the team. I think that Whitney and Ling Ling and Baumer, they love it on the team already, that’s why they decided to come here.”

Even before coming to Harvard, this Canadian rookie trio accumulated impressive competitive experience, displaying their talents under highly competitive conditions for club teams. Kennedy played for the Toronto Junior Aeros, while Lok and Baumgartner were teammates on the Richmond Pacific Steelers, which Baumgartner captained in the 2007-08 season.

Kennedy made her name at St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School as a three-time captain of the hockey team and was named the High School Athlete of the Year in her senior year. If early signs are any indication, she is already adapting well to the college level of play. During the Crimson’s exhibition match last Saturday against McGill, Kennedy scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal by stealing the puck after a faceoff in McGill territory and slamming it past the Martlets netminder.

“It’s a big jump in pace. We have an extremely fast group of kids out on the ice, which we’ve been very fortunate to have over the years,” Stone says.

“This year’s no different, and we might even be faster than we were a year ago. That alone, getting used to playing at that pace, is going to be a transition for all of them,” she adds.

Lok was a member of the British Columbia Winter Games Zone team and played in both the Canada Winter Games and the National U-18 Championship. She also attended the Calgary National U-19 camps, earning the bronze medal while at the Junior Women’s Hockey League (JWHL) Challenge Cup.

“She really wanted to come to Harvard,” Stone says. “It was a matter of us being able to make that happen, and she was always committed to coming here. She’s had some good opportunities, and I think it’s going to be a transition for her.”

Baum-gartner also attended the BC Winter Games, played in the U-18 Team BC Winter Games, and won the U-18 Nationals with team BC. She was selected to the North America Hockey Academy (NAHA) All-Tournament Team and received silver medals in both the NAHA Labor Day Tournament and the JWHL Challenge Cup.

“She definitely will [contribute],” sophomore Liza Ryabkina says. “Watching from the blue line, she has a lot of potential—she’s fast, she has good hands, and it seems like she’s getting used to the systems and expectations really, really fast. I mean, I’m not a coach, but I would love to play with her.”

While the Crimson rookies will have the opportunity to prove themselves right away on the ice, they also have the benefit of playing on an experienced team that will allow them to transition to the college game gradually.

“They’re learning, and I feel like they’re fitting in pretty well,” Ryabkina says.

‘It’s interesting to think that you were in that position last year, so we’re all trying to help them out to get used to the team and all the things that are expected,” she adds.

Having already made good first impressions on their new teammates, the freshmen will now try to carry their success in training and practice over to game situations, learning how to adjust to a new level of competition from those whose skates they will one day fill for the Crimson.