Here Comes Harvard
With three wins on the road last week, two over Top Five teams, Harvard is starting to turn heads around the country. The Crimson (8-3-0) has vaulted to No. 3 in this week’s USCHO.com poll, its highest ranking of the season.
Unlike two years ago, when Harvard destroyed its competition (often by five or more goals) en route to a 33-1-0 record and a national championship, all three wins were close. In Sunday’s victory at No. 4 St. Lawrence, the Crimson was outshot 27-22 by the Saints but held on for a 2-1 victory. Harvard had the advantage on offense in the other two contests, outshooting No. 5 Brown 31-25 and Cornell 30-18.
Another difference from two years ago is that the entire roster is contributing this season, not just one line, if only because Harvard has no other choice. With only 14 skaters and three goaltenders on the active roster, Harvard coach Katey Stone uses her entire bench–and all 14 players have scored thus far.
Sophomore forward Tracy Catlin, for example, scored two goals last week–including the game-winner at Brown. Catlin, who saw little action as a rookie last year, now finds herself on the second line with sophomore Kalen Ingram and senior Angie Francisco (5g, 14a), who is third in the conference in assists.
But the heart of Harvard’s offense is still the combination of senior Tammy Shewchuk (6g, 15a) and junior Jennifer Botterill (13g, 7a). Shewchuk is the ECAC’s second-leading scorer while Botterill leads the conference in goal-scoring although she has only played in seven games. Botterill was read hot last week, recording five goals and an assist in the three wins.
“Every year she’s a better player,” said Stone of Botterill. “She’s stronger and faster than she was even last year, and she’s our utility player in terms of doing whatever we ask of her. In my opinion, she’s head and shoulders above everyone else in college hockey.”
Stone also started to salvage some holes in the Crimson defense by moving senior Tara Dunn (3g, 4a) to the blueline. Dunn’s first game as a defenseman was at Brown, and since then the Crimson has not given up more than one goal in a game. Stone is hoping that Dunn will be able to bring to the defensive zone some of the qualities Harvard lost when Angela Ruggiero, the top blueliner in the country the last two seasons, left Cambridge to train with the US National Team.
“Tara is a Rugger-esque player,” Stone said in reference to Ruggiero.” She’s like a quarterback in the defensive zone because she can break the puck out cleanly. We need someone who sees the seams and puts the puck where she wants it quickly.”
The other addition to the Harvard defense is freshman goaltender Jessica Ruddock, who saw limited action earlier in the season due to injury but got the wins at Brown and St. Lawrence. Although she has played in just four games, Ruddock, who made 26 stops against the Saints, is second in the conference in both GAA (0.82) and save percentage (.967).
“We knew Jessica was a great goaltender, it was just a matter of getting her healthy,” Stone said. “Alison Kuusisto has also done a tremendous job for us this year, and now there is a healthy rivalry between the two of them. They’re pushing each other everyday in practice and that’s what we want.”
Harvard has this week off before traveling to No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.
No. 1 vs. No. 2
The biggest games of the early season will take place this weekend in Hanover, where No. 1 Dartmouth (8-0-1) will host No. 2 Minnesota (11-2-1) in a two-game series.
Last year the Gophers swept the Big Green in a pair of one-goal victories at Mariucci Arena en route to winning the national championship. This year, however, Dartmouth comes into these games as the top team in the country, with an undefeated record and everyone back from last year’s squad, which reached the AWCHA semifinals.
“Both teams are a year older and have started out well,” Dartmouth coach Judy Parish Oberting said, comparing the upcoming series to last year’s contests. “Last year, we were without seniors and hadn’t quite figured out how good we were in the early months. In fact, it really wasn’t until the end of the year that hit our stride–this year, we have won some close games early and the players are anxious to get back out there against the Gophers.”
The Big Green has won the games its supposed to win so far but, as Oberting said, the score has been close against Dartmouth’s toughest competition. The Big Green has played three Top Five teams, and it narrowly escaped those contests. Dartmouth won by one goal against both Harvard and Brown and, in its most recent game on Nov. 26, the Big Green tied St. Lawrence, 2-2.
The Big Green has gotten the job done so far by spreading the wealth on offense rather than looking to one or two big scorers. Dartmouth has five players with at least 10 points in senior Carrie Sekela, juniors Kim McCullough, Kristin King and Correne Bredin and sophomore Carly Haggard.
Minnesota, on the other hand, has five players among the top 15 scorers in the WCHA: rookie La Toya Clarke, seniors Ambria Thomas and Nadine Muzerall, junior Laura Slominski and sophomore Rona Curtin. The high-flying Gophers will look to attack a rugged Dartmouth defense which, under Bredin’s leadership and the acrobatic goaltending of Amy Ferguson, allows just 1.89 goals a game.
“We need to play with intensity and intelligence,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “If we turn over the puck too much and make mental mistakes, we’ll be in trouble. Dartmouth is the type of team that will take advantage of opponents’ mistakes.”
The Gophers are on a 6-0-1 streak after losing two games early in the season to Brown and No. 9 Ohio State, but Halldorson said there is still room for improvement for the defending champs.
“Our team could be a little more consistent than we’ve been so far this season, and we had the same issue last year,” Halldorson said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet. Although this is a tough stretch of time for our players academically, they understand how important these games are for us. Hopefully, they will be motivated and ready to take on a tough opponent like Dartmouth.”