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Harvard To Face Perennial Championship Contender Minnesota for the NCAA Crown

The Crimson will take the ice Sunday afternoon, they will skate over the logo of the Minnesota Gophers, a team that is both the host of the Frozen Four and a  finalist. The Gophers have won two of the past three NCAA Championships.
The Crimson will take the ice Sunday afternoon, they will skate over the logo of the Minnesota Gophers, a team that is both the host of the Frozen Four and a finalist. The Gophers have won two of the past three NCAA Championships. By Sam Danello
By Sam Danello, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard women’s hockey team is racing towards a championship matchup against Minnesota, but less than four months ago, this final destination appeared improbable, if not downright delusional.

On Nov. 28, 2014, Harvard sleepwalked through a 10-2 nightmare at Boston College, and the eight-goal defeat dropped the Crimson to 0-2-2 over its past four games. Although Harvard scraped by lowly Northeastern in its next match, the early-season skid left the Crimson with plenty questions, including the big one: where to go from here?

“[We] stuck to playing for each other,” senior forward Hillary Crowe said. “That has gotten us to where we are now.”

The Gophers never underwent such a tremendous setback against a local foe. Instead, the team’s largest defeat of the season came in early February, when Minnesota lost at North Dakota, 3-0. The next day, the Gophers returned with vengeance and earned a 3-1 victory against the same squad.

“This team, we haven’t had a lot of adversity,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost admitted.

Harvard and the Gophers may have followed different roadmaps, but on Sunday afternoon, the two teams from different regions of the nation will collide in Minneapolis with a national title on the line.

For top-seeded Minnesota, championship matchups have become an annual ritual. The team has appeared in the past three national title contests, claiming two of these matches.

“They’re very skilled,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said of her team’s next opponent. “They’ve got weapons all over the ice, [so] I think they’re a balanced team.”

By contrast, the Crimson has not played in a Frozen Four final since the 2004-05 campaign. That year, Harvard met Minnesota in the championship and stomached a 4-3 loss.

While much has changed since then, the overall dominance of the two teams has not. Just as in 2005, the Crimson enters the final game of the season as the ECAC champion, while the Gophers enter the contest with a 33-3-4 overall record.

During her three-year stint with the program, Minnesota forward Hannah Brandt has never known a season without a championship bout. The junior star, producer of a goal and two assists in a semifinal win over Wisconsin, ranks second in the nation with 73 points.

The Gophers’ attack extends beyond Brandt, however, as eight total Minnesota players own double-digit goal totals. Next to Brandt, sophomore forward Dani Cameranesi paces the team with 64 points.

The Minnesota offense will square off against some of the strongest blue liners in the nation in Harvard’s veteran defensemen. The Crimson defense includes two former Olympians (junior Michelle Picard and senior Josephine Pucci) and one co-captain who has played in every game this season (senior Marissa Gedman).

“They’re big and strong and very talented,” Frost said. “We’re going to have to try to get pucks and bodies to the net…. It’s going to be a very difficult task.”

Even if the Gophers escape for a breakaway opportunity, the hometown squad will have to get by junior goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, who made a season-high 43 saves in a Frozen Four semifinal versus the Eagles. On the season, Maschmeyer has stopped shots at a rate of .945, good enough for tied for third in the nation.

Minnesota junior netminder Amanda Leveille is one of the two players with a higher save percentage, checking in at .946. Against the Badgers, the junior proved capable of the big stage once again, and on the year, she allows 1.18 scores per contest.

Like the Gophers, Harvard will rely on a range of players to crash through this defensive wall. Junior forward Miye D’Oench, sophomore forward Sydney Daniels, and junior forward Mary Parker have scored 19, 19, and 17 goals, respectively, on the season for the Crimson.

While these statistics matter, perhaps the most significant number of the matchup is this one: 3,400. That’s how many people can cram into Ridder Arena, regular-season home of Minnesota and postseason site of the Frozen Four. On Sunday night, the rink will surely have the feel of a home game for the Gophers.

There is, of course, the added knowledge that hometown crowds go quiet when hometown teams lose. On Sunday afternoon, Harvard will try to silence a stadium of Minnesotans by grabbing a national championship that once seemed a stretch of the imagination.

“We’ve played in some pretty hostile environments throughout the season,” Stone said. “We get acclimated very quickly to the building we’re in…. We’ll embrace it and try to make some noise of our own.”

—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at sdanello@thecrimson.com.

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