Mid-autumn in Cambridge brings with it visions of sculling on the Charles River with leaves of every hue serving as an idyllic backdrop.
Then again, there’s just one color that really seems to matter in this corner of the hub, and that would be Harvard Crimson.
To that end, veteran bench boss Katey Stone has been retooling her club to contend not only for an ECAC crown (they were tabbed for third in the pre-season poll), but for something even greater. After all, at some point, some Eastern school is going to break the West’s total stranglehold on the NCAA championship.
So why not Harvard?
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Crimson was considered the gold standard for the sport. Then the Western schools came in and changed the landscape (or icescape) forever.
And certainly for the good.
For her part, Stone, who has seen 16 recruiting classes come and go, is pinning many of her hopes on what the 2010 newbies can bring to the Bright (but rarely warm) Arena.
“I think the big question for us is getting some of these young kids going right away,” said Stone. “We certainly think they have great futures in the program. It’s just a matter of how quickly they transition.”
Stone has seven freshmen on the roster that will open the season this weekend, when both Yale and Brown come to visit.
She says she plans to put weight on the young shoulders of Kalley Armstrong (Maple, B.C.) and Gina McDonald (New Brighton, Minn.) in the offensive end, and Jackie Young (Medford, Mass.) and Marissa Gedman (Framingham, Mass.) on the blue line.
And if the name Gedman sounds familiar, you are either an old-time Red Sox fan, watch a bit of UMass hockey, or know something about college wooden bat league baseball.
(It’s a deep athletic gene pool, you know.)
“It’s always hard to say (what to expect),” said Stone. “As long as we stay healthy, that’s the key to everyone’s success. But that’s something that we’re hoping will happen for us this year. Hopefully we can put that together.”
While the youngsters begin to blend in, they can take a few cues from senior co-captain Liza Ryabkina. The Ukranian native is one of the most dynamic players in the sport, at least when she has two legs to skate on.
That was a problem for Ryabkina for most of last season, as she suffered a dislocated knee cap, and later an ankle injury.
The good news for both Stone, and those who truly enjoy watching skill in action, is that Ryabkina is the picture of health.
“Which is great,” said Stone. “She’s a very athletic kid. I never put expectations on these kids. I let them get out there and play. And the more comfortable she feels, the better she is. Sometimes the less concentration on her, the better. We’re looking forward to her being a strong leader, making an impact. We’re not sure exactly what that will be, But I think she’s pretty hungry to have a great year. So, we’re looking forward to that.”
There is no small irony in the fact that the Crimson is opening against Yale, whose new head coach, Joakim Flygh, was an assistant to Stone the last three years. Flygh is just the latest in a line of Stone disciples to move on to other benches.
“I’m certainly happy for all of them,” Stone said. “I consider that a big part of my job. We’re here to develop players and coaches and people. So, when good things happen for people who have been in our
program, it’s awesome. I think that they’ve got good foundations, and hopefully they’re going to be very successful. And be in it for a long time. That makes me feel good.”
Stone’s coaching tree has extends to Union, where no less than three members of the Crimson Mafia run the women’s hockey program. The lastest to join the staff of fourth year coach Claudia Asano is Olympian Julie Chu. Asano raves about the contribution Chu has already made during her brief time in Schenectady.
“She’s an all-around unbelievable person,” said Asano. “I used to call her “Kid.” I always knew she was someone special, then. Now that she’s been added to my staff, it’s been unbelievable. Our kids are more excited and believe in themselves more than I think they used to. They know how much true hope she has in what we’re doing. And how dedicated she is.”
Goaltender Ali Boe is the third former Crimson on the staff.