UPDATED: March 9, 2015, at 1:06 a.m.
The Harvard women’s ice hockey team had been there before.
Last year, the team met Cornell in the ECAC semifinals at Cheel Arena in Potsdam, N.Y., looking to earn a chance to play for an uncontested bid to the NCAA tournament. But the Big Red came away with a 6-4 victory in a hard-fought battle, leaving the Crimson’s tournament fate in the balance.
The stage was set with even higher stakes Sunday afternoon, as No. 4/4 Harvard (25-5-3, 16-4-2 ECAC) and No. 9/9 Cornell (19-11-3, 14-6-2) met up to decide which ECAC team would receive the outright bid to this year's tournament. This time the result came out in favor of the Crimson, who rode a six-goal third period to a 7-3 victory.
“I think today’s game was good,” junior forward Mary Parker said. “We were really happy with the outcome. The first period started off a little slow, but as the game went on, we were able to come out and play well when the game was on the line, which was really awesome.”
Entering Sunday having beaten the Big Red twice already during the regular season, Harvard earned its first conference tournament championship since 2008 in its third matchup of the season against its Ivy League foe.
In the first period, each team took advantage of the other’s mistakes, as two early power play goals left the score even at one.
The game then remained quiet until the third period, when the Crimson broke the scoring open.
Nonetheless, initially it appeared as if Cornell would have the advantage in the frame, as the Big Red took a 2-1 lead just over a minute into the third on a shot that bounced off of junior goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer’s pads and was rebounded into the back of the net by Cornell senior forward Jillian Saulnier.
Harvard had an answer less than a minute later when freshman forward Dani Krzyszczyk found classmate Karly Heffernan off the left wing. The rookie hardly hesitated, taking an uncontested shot that hit the top right corner of the twine.
The Crimson continued to roll. Less than a minute after Heffernan’s goal, senior defenseman Sarah Edney came through with her second score of the game, taking a slapshot out in front of the net that made it past the Big Red defense, giving Harvard its first lead of the game.
With momentum swinging the Crimson’s way, Parker tacked on an insurance goal to increase the lead during a power play opportunity.
“We played our game and made the plays that were there,” Edney said. “We didn’t try to make any plays that were too big for us, and I think that’s part of the reason we were able to spring back so well.”
Back to back goals by freshman forward Lexie Laing and Parker would extend the team’s lead even further, bringing it up to four goals.
Cornell made a comeback effort late in the third period after adding a power play goal, but the Crimson was able to answer almost immediately when junior forward Miye D’Oench found the back of the Big Red’s empty net.
Despite the flurry of late goals, the game did not boast the same level of offensive intensity at the start as it ended with, as Harvard went down 1-0 early after Cornell capitalized on a man-advantage.
The Crimson answered the Big Red’s call to action with a power play goal of its own. Coming off of a transition, Edney was fed by Parker out in front of the Cornell net, and the senior launched a shot that got past Big Red goaltender Paula Voorheis at 18:07 in the first period.
The remainder of the first period and the entire second period remained scoreless, but Harvard's late offensive explosion carried the Crimson to the win.
A few hours after the game, Harvard was granted the third seed in the eight-team NCAA Tournament. The Crimson will play one final game at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center this Saturday against sixth-seeded Quinnipiac, whom Harvard beat in the ECAC semifinals, with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
—Staff writer Ariel Smolik-Valles can be reached at email@example.com.