DULUTH, Minn. — This time, Harvard left nothing to chance.
A flurry of goals by freshman Julie Chu and junior Lauren McAuliffe gave the Crimson a 2-0 advantage over Minnesota late in the first period. Harvard (30-2-1) kept the pressure on the Gophers (27-7-1) defensively to secure the 6-1 victory in the first of the day’s NCAA Frozen Four semifinals.
“It wasn’t a wait-and-see what happens game,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “We were all over them. We created a lot of turnovers early in the game which gave us good looks at the net.”
On the first Crimson goal 18:49 into the game, captain Jennifer Botterill broke into the zone and put the puck on Minnesota goaltender Judy Horak. Chu retrieved the rebound and fired backhand into the net for the 1-0 lead.
McAuliffe delivered a backbreaking goal just 23 seconds later. When Harvard won the faceoff, she broke in on a 2-on-1 with Nicole Corriero. McAuliffe caught Horak off guard by snapping the puck over her shoulder..
Minnesota had three power plays in the first period but could not convert. Chances were even on both sides in the first 18 minutes.
“I thought we started off strong and had a good first period,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “Too bad we couldn’t bury one early because maybe it would have turned out a little bit differently. Those two goals they scored at the end of the period made a big difference in the momentum of the game and it’s hard catching up after that.”
Harvard, with a 2-0 lead, cruised from there.
“When you’re up a by a couple goals, your legs feel a lot lighter,” said captain Angela Ruggiero. “We went back into the locker room with a lot of energy.”
Chu made the score 3-0 at the 13:25 mark when she retrieved a Jamie Hagerman slapshot from behind the net and wrapped around in front for the score.
Ruggiero scored Harvard’s second final-minute goal of the game when she cashed in on a 2-on-1 with Chu with 34 seconds left in the period. Ruggiero had actually overskated the net but she banked the puck off Horak’s pads for the 4-0 lead.
Minnesota had just seven shots in the first period, six in the second period and five in the third as Harvard dominated defensively. The Crimson frustrated Minnesota just as Dartmouth had frustrated Harvard in the Crimson’s 7-2 defeat in the ECAC championship last week. Harvard consistently made the extra to dive to block shots and slow down the Gophers’ speedy skaters.
“When you have Angela Ruggiero back on D she controls the whole game,” said Minnesota freshman All-American Natalie Darwitz. “When you try to forecheck she just puts a pass up the middle. Every time a line came up it felt like it was one-on-four. You can’t beat four people.”
Harvard goaltender Jessica Ruddock saved 17 of 18 shots. She stopped a few shots from point-blank range early in the game. Once Harvard had the lead, she had plenty of room for comfort.
“Our forwards were flying,” said Harvard goaltender Jessica Ruddock. “I was definitely feeling confident, especially since my defense was playing really good this weekend. We proved today why we’re the best defensive team in the country.”
The only goal Ruddock gave up was controversial. As Ruddock stopped the puck, Darwitz barreled into Ruddock and both the puck and Darwitz went flying into the net. After further review, it was determined that the puck crossed the line just before Darwitz dislodged the net.
Harvard tacked on two more goals before the end of the day. Horak had left the net with 3:18 left while Ruggiero still had the puck, and Ruggiero made her pay by firing into the net from half-ice for the 5-1 lead. Harvard senior Tracy Catlin finished a two-on-none with Chu for the sixth Crimson score with just under two minutes left.
Harvard outshot Minnesota 32-18. Stone said the defense was the difference.
“We did score six goals, but ultimately we dominated the game defensively,” Stone said. “We got the kind of goaltending we needed and wanted from our goaltender and we played real responsibly in our defensive end. It was all about the one-on-one battles and we won those today.”