In the finals of the 2011 Women’s World U18 Championship, freshman Michelle Picard and classmate Sarah Edney suited up against each other as captains of their respective national teams. And although Picard’s American squad took home the gold over Edney and Team Canada, both defenders capped off their final year of high school by earning international hardware.
Donning the Crimson uniform for the first time, Edney and Picard will join forces and help the Harvard women’s hockey team compete for the top spot in the ECAC this season.
“We’re excited to see what they will bring to the college level,” said junior defender Josephine Pucci, who will serve as one of the Crimson’s assistant captains this year. “They’ve been pushing us on the ice and adding that great positive attitude and ... enthusiasm on the ice.”
The dynamic defensive duo will be joined by two Minnesotan forwards and goaltender Tiana Press as incoming freshmen look to improve upon a 2010-11 season that saw the Crimson end its year just shy of an NCAA berth.
Freshman forwards Sami Reber and Hillary Crowe—both of whom were top-10 finalists for Ms. Hockey last year, an award given to Minnesota’s top female high school hockey player—also bring valuable experience to the ice for a Harvard team with only one senior.
“[Having such a young team] is almost better for freshmen,” Reber said. “It makes us have to step up and not so much play like freshmen on the ice. We’re young all around, so we don’t want any freshman to be scared to rush the puck and play with confidence.”
The talented recruiting class appears poised to make an immediate impact on the ice this season, as the Crimson carries a relatively small roster of 18.
“This year, because we have such a small team, the five of us are going to have to step up and play with no transition period and be ready to be thrown in there,” Picard said.
Despite boasting an array of national and international experiences on the ice, the freshmen must adjust to the pace and style of college hockey quickly if they hope to help Harvard compete with the best of the ECAC.
“It’s a big transition,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “Our kids are doing a great job of getting on board, communicating with one another. The strength and conditioning piece of it is a whole other commitment level, so I say they’re getting there.”
Harvard has set its sights on its first ECAC victory since the 2008 campaign, and rookies will likely play an integral role in that quest. But luckily for the Crimson freshmen, veterans on the team have been leading the way.
“It’s hard to come in as a freshman and to play with confidence,” Reber said. “The situation we’re in, our teammates are incredible and they’ve helped us out a lot.”
Picard—along with Pucci and junior forward Jillian Dempsey—will have a unique opportunity to get more international experience under her belt during the 2011-12 campaign, as the trio was recently selected to compete for the United States at the Four Nation’s Cup this year. And despite removing three key players from Harvard’s lineup for a weekend, the competition will likely aid the Crimson in seeking national contention this season.
“I’m really excited to be able to play at that level, although I’m bummed we miss a weekend of Harvard hockey for it,” Picard said. “All of those players [on the national team] are amazing. I hope to learn something and be able to bring it back. I want to go there to play hard and get better and bring it back to Harvard hockey.”
Leadership is key on any team with underclassmen outnumbering veteran players. And although the upperclassmen are few in number, the squad’s lack of experience is not as great as one might think, as most of its returners have seen considerable action in at least one season at the college level.
“We’re a young team, but the leadership is great,” junior goaltender Laura Bellamy said. “Our captain, Alisa Baumgartner, has done a great job as a senior to show [the freshmen] how it is coming in. The junior class is seven kids strong, so we’ve been trying to as well.”
Harvard will need all 18 of its players, including the five freshmen, if it hopes to contend for a national title this season.
“All of us are going to have to step up, every grade, every position, because of how young we are,” Pucci said.
—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at email@example.com.