Sometimes, it’s easier to face adversity early on in a venture, rather than dealing with it after you’ve established an identity.
It’s a lesson this season’s Harvard women’s hockey team has learned in the early throes of its new campaign, but, despite the challenges placed upon them, the Crimson are off to a nearly flawless start to their 2012-13 campaign.
For one, Josephine Pucci, a Harvard senior defenseman that was elected one of the Crimson’s captains for this season, experienced in August her second concussion in nine months.
Pucci has struggled to overcome that injury, which came while she was playing with the United States Under-22 team. It left her unable to go to class and exercise, and she eventually withdrew from school and will sit out this season.
The Crimson lost another of its anchors on the blue line in the preseason when junior Marissa Gedman. who finished third on Harvard’s scoring chart last season as a sophomore with eight goals and 19 assists, ruptured her Achilles tendon.
Pucci and Gedman, who combined for 48 points last season, are both eligible to receive medical redshirts and are expected to return next season.
The Crimson have marched on despite missing that dynamic defensive duo. Going into Sunday’s game at No. 7 Boston University, Harvard finds itself ranked sixth in the country with a 4-0-0 record, all in ECAC play.
Harvard coach Katey Stone is looking forward to the top-10 showdown with the Terriers, as well as the other high-profile games the Crimson have coming up leading into the winter break at the end of next month.
“So far, so good, and I think we’re getting better,” Stone said about her team’s undefeated start, in which it has outscored its four opponents, 18-1. “It’s been a good start so far for us, and we’ve got a long stretch of pretty significant games coming up here starting on Sunday with BU and leading all the way into the Christmas break, so it’ll be a good test for us, and hopefully we’re up to the challenge.
“I think we’re getting better, and you have to challenge yourself, so we’re all very excited about the competition ratcheting itself up, because you want to play the toughest schedule you can and come up against some great teams.”
The Crimson missed last year’s NCAA tournament despite a 22-9-1 finish, but Harvard is hardly a stranger to the postseason under Stone. Her teams at the famous Cambridge, Mass., university have made eight NCAA tournament appearances since she arrived on the campus in 1994 and won five ECAC, five Ivy League, and 10 Beanpot titles in that time.
The all-time winnigest coach in women’s college hockey with 382 victories, Stone also has extensive experience coaching the U.S. women’s national team, and has just returned from Finland after leading the Americans to gold in the 2012 Four Nations tournament.
Stone looks at her two groups of charges in much the same way. It helps that both teams win more often than they lose, of course — Harvard hasn’t had a losing season since 1997-98 — but the goals the two teams have are very similar.
“All the principles are the same, and the goals are the same,” Stone said. “One’s to develop players for a college program and to put yourself in a position to win a national championship, and the other’s developing players for the national team program to put themselves in a position to win a gold medal, so they’re pretty similar goals in coaching.”
It’s hard to find fault with the Crimson’s performances so far this season. Senior goaltender Laura Bellamy — Harvard’s only goaltender that saw time last season in each of the team’s 32 games — and freshman Emerance Maschmeyer have split time and combined have only conceded one goal in the team’s first four games, all on the road.
Goals have been sailing in for the Crimson at the other end of the ice. Nine Harvard players have scored the team’s 18 goals so far this season, and the team’s led up front by senior forward Jillian Dempsey (six goals, four assists) and junior forward Lyndsey Fry (four goals, four assists).
Fry and sophomore defenseman Michelle Pickard both traveled with Stone to Vantaa and Kerava, Finland, to represent the U.S. at the Four Nations. Fry had a plus-six plus-minus ratio at the tournament, while Picard finished a plus-four.
The entire team now resumes its assault on the ECAC though, and Harvard’s wins in the respective rinks of Quinnipiac, Princeton, Brown, and Yale to start the season have Stone feeling confident about her young Crimson club.
Eleven underclassmen — seven of them freshmen — make up the majority of Harvard’s 21-woman roster, and Stone and her team are reaping the benefits from the early chances to bond away from the Crimson’s Bright Hockey Center home.
“In order to be successful in women’s hockey, you’ve got to be able to win on the road as well,” Stone said. “Sometimes it helps you to gel your team a little bit faster when you get out there and take a few road trips early on. Particularly when you’ve got a lot of young players in your program.
“So far, we haven’t had a highly-exposed weakness. That doesn’t mean we don’t have them; it just hasn’t been exposed. Time will tell, and I think the key for us is that everyone’s prepared and is ready to do their jobs.”
It’s still much too early to accurately predict just how far this year’s Crimson squad will go, but spirits are high in Cambridge, and there’s a palpable sense that this is a team that’s able to clear the hurdles placed in front of the Crimson before the season began.
“Everyone has just galvanized together,” Stone said of her team. “There’s no good time for a season-ending injury like those to take place, but the decision was made before the season started that (Pucci and Gedman), unfortunately, had season-ending injuries, so we started out Oct. 5 knowing all of that, so every kid that was on the ice the first day of practice knew that this was our team.
“It wasn’t as though it happened in November and all of a sudden we’re wondering what we do now, having crafted our plan around this group of personnel. Starting Oct. 5, our team was our team, and I think that helped us to say ‘Let’s go.’”