With just two points separating first and third place in the ECAC, the No. 6/6 Harvard women’s ice hockey team will skate this weekend to control its entire conference destiny.
Clarkson (21-4-5, 12-2-4 ECAC) will come to Cambridge on Friday sitting just one game behind the league-leading Crimson (19-3-3, 14-2-2), with both teams highly aware that a Harvard loss could change conference standings with just two weeks of regular-season play to go. St. Lawrence (10-16-3, 9-6-3), ranked sixth in the conference, faces the Crimson on Saturday at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center.
“This weekend is huge for us,” junior forward Samantha Reber said. “Right now we are leading the ECAC, but not by much. Clarkson’s right there. Cornell’s right there. This weekend is huge for every team in our league.”
Reber, who spearheads the Crimson in assists with 14 on the season, scored the overtime game-winner in the consolation round of the Beanpot on Tuesday to lift Harvard over Boston University, 3-2. She has been part of a Crimson squad that has seen its roster shrink due to graduation, injury, and attrition to the Olympic team, but no lesser in strength both on and off the ice, according to Harvard interim head croach Maura Crowell.
“It’s been going on all season,” Crowell said. “When you start with 18, you can’t expect to have 18 throughout the long hockey season. The good news for us is that we are really used to it. These guys are in really good shape and they have really strong mental toughness, and they can handle it…. I’m lucky to have this group that loves to play.”
Crowell’s group has battled the notion that bigger is better with just 18 players on its roster, and plenty of young talent. In a balanced scoring effort against BU, three players—Reber, and sophomore forwards Miye D’Oench and Jessica Harvey—tallied a goal. D’Oench leads the team with 15 goals and 12 assists.
“As a team we feel very confidently about the way we play,” D’Oench said. “Personally just playing with a team like that it’s so easy to play with confidence and really know where you stand and be confident about what you do when you’re on the ice.”
Confidence will be key against No. 5/3 Clarkson. While a balanced effort by the Crimson leaves challengers guessing as to who will strike on any particular night, the Golden Knights have a clear-cut group of threats.Harvard will look to contain Clarkson, which possesses three of the ECAC’s top five players in points in senior forwards Jamie Lee Rattray and Brittany Styner as well as sophomore defender Erin Ambrose.
The Golden Knights have not lost a game since falling to North Dakota on Dec. 6, 2013.
Rattray is the second-leading scorer in the nation with 25 goals and sixth in assists with 26. Styner and Ambrose have also found their strides in lending a hand to their teammates. Ambrose has the top rank in the country with 31 assists, while Styner trails her by five with 26.
Meanwhile, Clarkson will pose a challenge at the other end of the ice with senior goaltender Erica Howe, who has proved almost as impenetrable as Harvard sophomore Emerance Maschmeyer. While Maschmeyer holds the third spot in the country for saves with a percentage of .949, Howe is hot on her heels with a save percentage of .937, and is tied for first in the nation in shutouts, with 10.
On Saturday, Harvard will face St. Lawrence in a matinée affair. The Saints have had a balanced scoring effort all season, with a vast majority of their goals coming off of assists. Junior goaltender Carmen MacDonald has started 23 of the team’s 29 games, notching a save percentage of .935, third in the conference only to Maschmeyer and Howe.
While both St. Lawrence and Clarkson present a threat to the Crimson’s dominance of the ECAC, Harvard will draw on past road wins at both schools at the beginning of the 2013-2014 campaign.
Despite clawing opponents and the challenge of having to play four games in an eight-day interval, the squad looks to remain level-headed in the final weekend of home play before March sees the Crimson contend in postseason tournaments.
“We’re going to treat it like every other game,” Reber said. “[We will] come out hard and come out with a fast start, hopefully pop a couple [goals] in quickly. We’ve got two games to play, so hopefully we play our game the entire weekend.”
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.