Junior Saves the Day With Late-Game Heroics in Close Call Against Colgate

The No. 1 Harvard women’s hockey team has lost only one game this season, a defeat at the hands of No. 2 New Hampshire on Dec. 14. After that, the Crimson went into full swing, steamrolling all of its opponents. For over two months, no team could even come within one goal of vanquishing Harvard.

Until Friday night, that is.

The perfect ECAC regular season for the Crimson (25-1-0, 21-0-0 ECAC) was on the line on Friday in Hamilton, N.Y. against Colgate. With the clock ticking down in the third period and the contest deadlocked at 2-2, the Raiders (12-15-5, 9-9-4 ECAC) took a 4-on-3 advantage after two penalties were logged against Harvard. For a moment, it looked like Colgate might derail the Crimson’s unblemished conference campaign.

Then Sarah Vaillancourt took the puck.

The junior forward tracked down a clear from the Harvard zone at center ice and advanced into Colgate territory on a breakaway. After a deke to the right, she netted the game-winning shorthanded goal past Raiders netminder Lisa Plenderleith with 2:28 remaining to make it 3-2.

That was close.

“It was awesome, it was a great effort,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “Our backs were against the wall a little bit on a 4-on-3 but Sarah got a breakaway and pulled a great move on the goaltender.”

“On the 4-on-3, I knew we had to get a goal really soon,” Vaillancourt said. “I ended up racing to the puck and went on a breakaway and beat the goalie.”

“We knew we were going to capitalize on those chances at some point,” she added. “I think it was really important for us to come back and win a game like this.”

Vaillancourt’s goal broke a long scoring drought for the Crimson. Though the match ended in dramatic fashion, it looked like it would be another easy win for Harvard after the first five minutes.

At 2:56 in the first period, the Crimson took a power-play advantage after an interference penalty against Colgate. Sophomore defenseman Kathryn Farni converted on the opportunity 40 seconds later with a wrist shot from the right circle to give Harvard a 1-0 lead. Vaillancourt sent the puck into the Colgate zone to start the play before passing to junior forward Jenny Brine, who threaded the puck to Farni.

A short two minutes later at 5:55, the Crimson scored again. This time, junior forward Sarah Wilson set up sophomore linemate Anna McDonald on a bouncing shot between Plenderleith’s legs.

It would be the last goal for Harvard until Vaillancourt’s breakaway third period score. Up until that point, Plenderleith shut the Crimson down between the pipes with an impressive 24-save effort, staving off multiple Harvard advances with the help of some good fortune. Midway through the first, the Crimson nearly took a 3-0 lead when a shot from freshman forward Liza Ryabkina deflected off the left post.

With Plenderleith holding Harvard to two goals, the Raiders slowly ate away at the Crimson’s advantage. At 13:11 in the first period, forward Beth Rosenberg sailed the puck past Harvard sophomore goalie Christina Kessler. Forward Jessi Waters tied the game for Colgate with the only score of the second period.

With the comeback, the stage was set for a third period fight to the finish.

“They’re a tough team to play against. They have a couple kids who are really skilled and it’s going to be a battle to play them every year,” senior tri-captain Caitlin Cahow said. “For us, I think overall it was about finding ourselves in a tough game and figuring out how to come out on top.”

The catalyst for victory turned out to be Vaillancourt’s shorthanded winner, a testament to her clutch play for the team.

“She’s doing great,” Stone said. “She works so hard to prepare herself to play. She’s playing great right now and that’s what we need. She’s doing what she needs to do for our team.”

Although Harvard certainly would have preferred a less tense game, contests such as Friday night help the squad prepare for the postseason.

“We’ve played in a lot of different kinds of games—when we get ahead, when we come from behind, when it’s close—and we’ll be able to draw on that experience in the playoffs,” Stone said.

“I think it’s exciting to know that whatever situation we’re in, we have the confidence to play 60 minutes of hockey,” Cahow added. “We’re going to get the job done no matter what the circumstances are.”