Imagine this: two of the nation’s top collegiate women’s hockey programs facing off in the 2007 NCAA quarterfinals. Two Patty Kazmaier award winners trying to lead their team to the Frozen Four. More than five thousand fans in attendance.
No wonder it took four overtimes to settle the score.
Now imagine the heartbreak when Wisconsin forward Jinelle Zaugg finally put a puck past Harvard goaltender Brittany Martin after more than 127 minutes of scoreless play.
The Badgers went on to win a national championship. The Crimson went on to spring break.
Tonight, No. 1 Harvard (32-1-0) has a chance to erase that bitter taste from its mouth when the team faces off against No. 5 Wisconsin (28-8-3) in the NCAA semifinals in Duluth, Minn.
“Obviously, as soon as we knew we were going to play them, the first thing that came to my mind was revenge,” junior Sarah Vaillancourt said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to pay them back.”
A lot has changed in a year. For starters, the Crimson is no longer the underdog.
Harvard enters the game with the top seed in the tournament and the momentum generated from a 5-1 drubbing of No. 8 Dartmouth in the quarterfinals. The Badgers are fresh off an overtime upset of No. 4 Minnesota.
Playing on the neutral ice of the DECC in Duluth also eliminates the home-ice advantage Wisconsin enjoyed when the teams last met.
Another difference—neither team has the same lineup from last year’s marathon contest.
“We’re different teams from where we were a year ago,” head coach Katey Stone said. “The complexion of their team is different, the complexion of ours is different. It’s an entirely different ballgame.”
The Crimson is young—two sophomores are among the team’s starting six, and Harvard’s second lines are composed entirely of freshmen and sophomores—but the team has already proven itself with victories in the Beanpot and ECAC tournaments.
Now the Crimson returns to the Frozen Four led by a core group of five players who have all been there before—Vaillancourt and seniors Caitlin Cahow, Brenna McLean, Laura Brady, and Jessica MacKenzie.
Stone will look to the veterans to keep Harvard focused in the national spotlight.
“There’s a lot of hype around the national championship, and I think they’ll help to settle the younger players down,” Stone said.
The Crimson will take the ice in Minnesota tonight for the first time since November 2005. It’s also the first time the team has played on the road since its regular season finale at Cornell a month ago.
“I think it’s a different way of playing away because it’s something we’ve been getting ready for. Even if we always say one game at a time, it was a team goal to get to the Frozen Four,” Vaillancourt said.
“The DECC is a really familiar ice for us,” Cahow added. “We haven’t played there this year but it has very similar dimensions to Bright. We’ll feel right at home.”
Harvard will also have the added benefit of having skated in the rink earlier this week. The team flew to Minnesota on Tuesday morning and felt out the ice in a practice yesterday.
“We’re going to be settled [in Duluth] and I don’t have a doubt that we’ll be ready to go,” Vaillancourt said. “If you’re not ready, it might be a little problem.”
Cahow is hoping that the third time will be the charm for her this weekend.
She appeared in the national championship game in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, the Crimson fell to Minnesota in both contests.
But the captain can sense the difference in this year’s squad.
“I think before when I played in the national championship games, we’ve been nervous,” Cahow said. “This year, we don’t read into the hype, we try not to read newspapers, we don’t look at statistics. We’re depending on what’s been working for us the entire season—playing as a team and focusing on the details.”
So even though revenge will be on Harvard’s mind tonight in Duluth, the game is about a lot more than just beating the Badgers.
It’s the final step of the journey back that started on the ice in Wisconsin last March—and this time a win can get them to the national championship.
“People underestimate us out in the Midwest, and we’re looking forward to proving some people wrong,” Cahow said.
If the Crimson plays the kind of hockey it’s been playing all season, you can bet that Harvard won’t go home heartbroken tonight.
Because revenge is a dish best served cold—and it doesn’t get much colder than Minnesota.
-Staff Writer Kathryn Leist can be reaced at firstname.lastname@example.org
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