On a weekend when No. 5 St. Lawrence had already beaten No. 1 Dartmouth and No. 4 Wisconsin had toppled No. 2 Minnesota, was No. 10 Brown going to be next to pull an upset against No. 3 Harvard?
With a strong start in the first period and a respectable finish in the third, the Crimson made sure the answer was a resounding “no.”
Harvard (19-2-1, 9-2-0 ECAC) scored three goals in the first nine minutes, let Brown (12-6-2, 8-2-1) back into the game for a bit, but held on in the end for a 5-2 victory. The comfortable margin of victory was particularly redemptive for Crimson junior defenseman Ashley Banfield. She had deflected the puck into her net for the second Brown goal but followed up by scoring Harvard’s fourth on the power play.
Fortune turned for Banfield at 16:10 of the second period, when Jessica Link threw up a centering pass on an odd-man rush that deflected off Banfield’s skate into the top left corner of the net past sophomore goaltender Ali Boe. The bounce was even tougher to take because the lone goal allowed in Harvard’s Beanpot win Tuesday came off of Banfield, too, though that puck might have gone in anyway had she not been there.
“We’ll try to have that not happen tomorrow,” said Banfield of the two incidents.
Junior Nicole Corriero, noting that the bounces weren’t going the way of her longtime teammate and roommate, left nothing to chance in the third period. For most of the game, the closest Banfield and Corriero had come to making a dangerous connection was when the two collided head-on while making a change. They did better for themselves on the power play at 8:54 of the third period, when Corriero hit Banfield across the net for a perfect one-timer and a 4-2 lead.
Banfield thought the pass was so beautiful it would have been hard for her to miss the net. Corriero called it a better connection than anything she had seen in practice.
“We practice trying to hit each other … and one of us always keeps missing it, so it’s good that we’re connecting in games,” Corriero said.
Having gained its second two-goal lead of the evening, Harvard did not let this one slip away. The Crimson played strong defense in the final minutes of the game, after having failed to do so towards the end of the first two periods. Co-captain Angela Ruggiero scored the empty-netter in the final seconds.
“At the second intermission, we realized what we needed to do was simplify our game and not try to make fancy plays, not get careless, and not be too cute with the puck,” Corriero said. “We executed that game plan well in the third period and played effective Harvard hockey.”
Brown coach Digit Murphy thought her team executed her game plan well too — but only for the last 51 minutes.
“It’s like we don’t want to play until we’re down by a couple of goals, and then by then it’s too late,” Murphy said. “The interesting thing is once we start playing we can play with everyone. You just keep telling them and hope that someday they get it. I’m not going to change my systems or anything, because it’s all about mental focus and what they bring to the table at the beginning of the game.
“Quite frankly, I’m at a quandary right now as to how to change that. I thought we played decent coverage after that. I thought we hung with them.”
Brown has struggled with slow starts before. Against No. 1 Dartmouth and No. 5 St. Lawrence, the Bears came back from multi-goal deficits to take leads, which they threatened to do this game. Other times, the Bears have started slow and fallen entirely flat. Examples were an 8-1 loss to No. 2 Minnesota and an 8-0 loss to St. Lawrence the day after the come-from-behind win. Murphy described her players as lost in the middle of bad dreams in such situations.
The problems for the Bears began just 44 seconds into the game, when Corriero skated right around the left side of their nicely organized 2-1-2 formation. As she was running out of space, she fired across the net to Jennifer Sifers on the other side. The puck never reached Sifers, but it never had to. Brown defender Marguerite McDonald had put all her focus towards keeping Sifers out of the net, so she had zero focus on the puck the bounced off the back of her leg into the net.
On the two next goals, the Bears gave Crimson sophomore and U.S. Olympian Julie Chu too much room to operate. Deep in the zone at the 3:15 mark, Chu fired across the net to linemate Jennifer Raimondi, who banged in a rebound at the crease. Chu found the net again at the 8:18 mark for the 3-0 lead when she was allowed to the carry the puck from the right boards into the slot for a powerful shot the deflected up out of Brown goaltender Katie Germain’s glove into the net.
“You can’t give people like Julie Chu any space,” Murphy said. “The second you give her space she’s going to get you. We haven’t played too many teams with that kind of individual.”
Chu also assisted on the Banfield goal, giving her a goal and two assists for the game. Her offensive numbers have picked up lately to Harvard’s pleasure, with no loss of defense.
“She’s still doing great in the defensive end, and she’s got a lot more explosive offensively now, creating some really good things,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “I think she’s going to have a great end to this season.”
The Crimson had a chance to go up 4-0 on what could be termed a Brown frustration penalty immediately after the third goal, but could not convert. Then Harvard’s defensive struggles began. The Crimson surrendered a breakaway to Brown leading scorer Jessica Link. Boe stopped her though, catching her off guard by kicking the puck away at the last second. Soon after, Ruggiero gave Brown a perfect centering pass in the defensive zone, which was shot wide of the net.
The Bears finally made the Crimson’s lack of focus pay at 17:29 of the first when they let Krissy McManus take a wide open one-timer from the slot off a feed from Kerry Nugent.
“That’s a scary thing when you’re up 3-0 and give up a goal at the end of the first period. We created their chances for them today by throwing the puck away at them,” said Stone, who contrasted that play with the great team hockey of the third period. “They’re quick and they’ll cause some things to happen with pressure, but we gave the puck right to them a number of different times and put point blank chances right on Boe.”
Boe stopped 24 of 26 shots for the victory, one of her better outings since Harvard’s January exam break.
Murphy realized it just might not be her team’s day when Germain failed to handle Chu’s shot and Boe stopped Link’s breakaway.
“Link not scoring on the breakaway, we play against Princeton she scores that goal,” said Murphy, referring to Brown’s 3-1 win over No. 8 Princeton a few weeks ago. “Unfortunately for her, we go sometimes the way she goes. [Germain] needs to make the saves in a clutch time. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying they’re our best players. Those are the kids and the plays that make or break you.”
Harvard had a good chance to regain the three-goal lead on a 5-on-3 early the second, but could not convert. The Bears had their power play chances too, but the Crimson forechecked well and trapped them well. When they did break out, that didn’t put the puck on net nearly enough. Nevertheless, Brown made a game of it at the end.
“They’re the kind of team that’s never going back down, going to keep working,” Banfield said. “I have a lot of respect for them. It could have gone either way at one point in the game, but we were solid in our d-zone at the end of the game.”
The two teams play again tomorrow at Harvard, where Brown hasn’t won since 1998. It will be a unique situation because Harvard and Brown typically don’t play a home-and-home. Murphy was ready to study the game soon after the end of this round, and she will look for better times tomorrow.
“Hopefully tomorrow our depth will carry us through,” Murphy said. “We’re typically better on day two anyways. We’ve got a lot of juice, because we play a lot of kids. Hopefully there will be better execution of our game plan tomorrow.”
Harvard will look forward to its first home game since January. Stone says her players know they will need a better effort tomorrow. The message seems to have gotten across.
“We’re a well conditioned team and we still have a lot of fresh legs and everyone is fired up and ready to go,” Corriero said. “We’re not going to draw on this game too much. I feel like we can get better and go on the effort we have today and put forth a greater effort tomorrow.”