CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — When Cherie Piper was carried off the ice in the final seconds of the second period as No. 3 Dartmouth trailed No. 2 Harvard 1-0, the situation looked grim for the Big Green. But in front of a hostile crowd of 1,921, a Harvard home record, Dartmouth turned the tables.
Big Green co-captain Sarah Clark netted the game-tying goal and the game-winner in the third period to give the Big Green (11-1-2, 5-0-1 ECAC) a 2-1 victory over the Crimson (13-1-1, 5-1 ECAC), who had been the nation’s last unbeaten team. The second line of Clark, Katie Weatherston, and Megan Walton stepped up and made the difference-making plays on both ends of the ice in Piper’s absence.
“We had to do something to pick our team up,” Clark said. “We have so many different players who can it step it up if someone gets hurt. That’s the great thing about our team.”
The injury to Piper, Dartmouth’s Canadian gold medalist, came as she rushed down ice to stop a last-second rush by Ruggiero in the second period. She suffered a deep bruise that should not be too serious, but it was enough to sideline her, seeing as she had already been listed as questionable due to a concussion from December.
Clark made the play that turned the game around three minutes into the third period when she stripped the puck from Harvard at the blue line, rushed in and beat Harvard goaltender Ali Boe top-shelf. A major motivating factor for Clark on that goal was the lingering pain from Saturday’s 5-5 tie against Brown, in which Dartmouth blew a 4-1 lead.
“Yesterday we took ten minutes off and it killed us,” Clark said. “Today everyone went harder. We just wanted this one so badly.”
Both coaches agreed the game was ultimately decided by one bounce, which came at Boe’s expense. With 4:26 left, the Dartmouth second line transitioned the puck to Clark behind the Dartmouth net. When she flicked the puck in front trying to connect with a teammate, it deflected off Boe’s shoulder into the net for the 2-1 lead.
Both coaches also agreed Dartmouth earned that bounce.
“Games like this, you want to see it happen clean, so a bounce of the puck is a bummer, but Dartmouth did everything they needed to do to win this game too,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “They hustled enough to get that bounce.”
Aside from Clark’s two scores, Boe was solid in stopping 22 of 24 shots in the first defeat of her college career.
“I hate to see something like that happen,” Stone said of the bounce. “Boe was fantastic for us. She was what we know she is.”
In the end, freshman Christine Capuano’s results were superior with 37 saves on 38 shots, including a flurry of Harvard opportunities at the end. The Crimson slipped the puck across the slot and even the crease on several occasions to no avail in the final minutes. Capuano recalled there was one puck that went inches behind her feet and she was sure it was going in, but the bounce never went Harvard’s way.
“I know we had a lot of student support today. I didn’t want anything more than to score in the last 30 seconds and erupt the building, but it didn’t happen,” Ruggiero said.
The Dartmouth defenders were successful in getting their bodies and sticks on Harvard players and not allowing anything.
“It’s the second and third shot we needed to work on, fighting in front of the net and putting in those rebounds,” said Harvard co-captain Angela Ruggiero, who was responsible for much of that offense generated in the final minutes. “We haven’t had too many games where we’ve had to struggle for that second and third rebound.”
And in those final minutes, it was the line of Clark, Weatherston and Walton that got the call for Dartmouth.
“The second and first lines compete every day in practice and there’s not a whole lot of difference between them,” said Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak. “They stepped up to the challenge. They’re steady, reliable, and they were a little fresher than the other group. You had to go with who was hot at the moment.”
While Harvard was disappointed with the loss, there were still plenty of positives. When speaking to her players after the game, she told them they just simply ran out of time.
“What impressed me most was, as soon as that [bounce] happened, we went right after them,” Stone said. “We didn’t hang our heads. There were lots of encouraging things. We played possession hockey for a large part of the third period.”
Harvard took the first lead of the game at 16:36 of the second period on a breakaway goal by sophomore Jennifer Raimondi, who was set free by Ruggiero. Raimondi showed greater poise and passion than at any other time of her career, turning, holding up, and firing the puck off the top of Capuano’s head for the score. The play ignited the largest crowd Capuano had ever endured, but she settled down.
“Whatever happens I let it slide,” Capuano said. “The [Harvard] band today, I just pretended they weren’t there. You’ve just got to let it go and focus on the rest of the game.”
The Raimondi breakaway was the second time that shift Dartmouth had let a Harvard player into the zone all alone, to Hudak’s disappointed. Other than those few minutes, however, Hudak felt Dartmouth did a good a job of forcing Harvard to shoot from the outside and preventing possessions in the slot. Capuano stopped all those shots in improving to 4-0 for her career, which now includes wins over Harvard, No. 4 UMD, and No. 9 UNH. She has yet to give more than two goals in a game this season.
Those shots from the outside were most dangerous when they came from Ruggiero, who had 10 of them. With Ruggiero in particular, Capuano got plenty of help from her good friends — the left post, the right post and the crossbar. She was more clutch herself in stopping 14 shots from Harvard’s Nicole Corriero, the nation’s leading goal scorer.
“There were times when I was definitely panicking, but I just controlled myself and tried to keep the puck under control,” Capuano said.
After this physical battle, both teams need plenty of time to heal. Harvard breaks for exams until Jan. 30, and Dartmouth next plays Providence on Jan. 21. For Dartmouth Piper is among the wounded, and for Harvard Jacyln Pitushka did not dress, Julie Chu has been hampered by a wrist injury, and Ashley Banfield suffered a knee injury in the first period. Fortunately for them, they have that time off — Dartmouth next plays on Jan. 21 and Harvard breaks for exams until Jan. 30.
While the game did have a winner and loser, the sport of women’s hockey was the biggest winner. Today might have been the best crowd in ECAC regular season history. With 1,576 watching the UMD-Minnesota game on Saturday night and 1,921 watching this gam e — including Bobby Orr, who stuck around to chat with Ruggiero — it was the first time crowds of 1,500 had been achieved in each region on the same weekend.
“This is the kind of crowd our kids deserve to play in front of,” Stone said. “The excitement and energy was tremendous. I think our kids would have played sixty more minutes if they could have.”