CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Down the stretch Friday night, it seemed as if St. Lawrence goaltender Rachel Barrie perfectly anticipated every Harvard shot. But there was nothing she could do at 2:10 of overtime, when All-World defenseman Angela Ruggiero suddenly emerged in front with momentum and space in her favor.
The Crimson co-captain’s goal capped a 3-2 come-from-behind victory in which No. 2 Harvard (21-2-1, 11-2-0 ECAC) had struggled to break out for the first 30 minutes and twice surrendered the lead to the No. 4 Saints (20-6-1, 11-2-0 ECAC). The result snapped St. Lawrence’s nine-game unbeaten streak, extended Harvard’s to eight, and evened up the ECAC regular-season race.
While Ruggiero got the last goal, it was freshman Katie Johnston who made the pass. Johnston, who scored the overtime game-winner against No. 10 Brown last Sunday on a fantastic setup, showed she could shine on more than just the receiving end.
On the faceoff in the Saints zone, Chu won the puck to Johnston, who slowly tapped the puck into space in front of Barrie. Ruggiero, having already pinched in for the faceoff, soared towards the net past a defender who had overcommitted to the point. With nothing but Barrie left to beat, Ruggiero buried the puck inside the near left post.
After Barrie had stifled Harvard for so long, it was surreal to see the puck finally past her.
“I heard the post, and I saw it in back, and I was like, ‘Did that really go in?’” Ruggiero said.
The Saints goaltender stopped 43 shots, including a Jennifer Raimondi breakaway in overtime and all 18 shots in the third period, when St. Lawrence countered with just four for itself. Among the highlight-reel stops she made were attempts by Raimondi and Nicole Corriero from point blank. Then there was a blistering Ruggiero shot from the point that she stopped in a split with her high glove. Saints coach Paul Flanagan credited Barrie for keeping the Saints in the game when they broke down defensively in the third.
“Rachel making saves like that, I’m sure it was entertaining, but it was a little mind-boggling from the bench,” Flanagan said.
The flow of the game from the third period was entirely different from the first period, when Harvard struggled to break the puck out and ending up with about as many icings as shots on goal for the first period. The Saints did well to get a body on every Harvard player that passed the puck and prevented the Crimson from getting any flow.
The Saints struck first at 18:30 of the first period when Sara Simard won the puck from a scrum way out in front of the net and forced it through traffic.
Harvard answered just 55 seconds later, when Ruggiero decided that if the Crimson wasn’t having much luck breaking out the puck along the ice, why not try the air? With Chu needing more time to get up ice, Ruggiero lobbed the puck high to Chu at the opposite blue line. Like a wide receiver looking for a pass, Chu fought of her defender to win the puck in the air and controlled it for a two-on-one with Raimondi, who Chu fed for the one-time finish. It was one of three Chu assists for the evening.
Harvard outshot the Saints 9-6, but neither team had an abundance of scoring opportunities. The best chance for Harvard come on the power play, when Corriero shot just wide of an open net that was set up by pinpoint passing. Her reaction showed she knew she had missed a golden opportunity.
St. Lawrence went ahead again at 5:08 of the second period when the Crimson struggled to handle the puck in its defensive zone. The killer blow came when Saints senior Gina Kingsbury stripped the puck right in front of the Harvard net and blasted it home for the 2-1 lead.
Harvard finally started to break out the puck well at the game’s halfway point and managed to tie it up at the 12:43 mark. The Crimson did well to keep the puck in the offensive zone. When Barrie gave up successful long rebounds to Raimondi, Chu and freshman Liza Solley, she could not stop the last one.
“They get in the way a lot, the ref let us play,” Stone said regarding Harvard’s early struggles. “They did a good job and there game plan was good. I’d like to see us start a little faster. All the kids know we really didn’t get going into midway through the second period.”
Flanagan said one way the Crimson neutralized the forecheck was by springing a forward behind the defense. That was successful as the Saints seemed to wear, perhaps a result of this being their third tough game in a row on the road and too much time on specialty teams in the third period. Not to mention, it was a draining game, and there was plenty of passion involved.
The Crimson ended up with 34 shots in the last two periods. Although Barrie made the lead tough to come by, Harvard knew it just had to keep sticking it to the Saints.
“We just have an attitude, keep pushing, keep pushing, and create as much pressure as you can, and good things are going to happen,” Stone said.
The game was pleasing to the crowd of 621. It catered to those who liked tight, physical play at the beginning before there was plenty of flow at the end. Having only five penalties called the entire game helped move it along.
“It was a physical game, but it wasn’t a cheap game,” Ruggiero said. “There were a couple shots here and there but overall people were playing hard hockey.”
Now both teams will look to get up for tomorrow’s rematch at 4 p.m. Flanagan said St. Lawrence will need to improve on its third period struggles in the defensive zone.
“We have to respond and really shore it up defensively,” he said. “We gave up a few too many good chances.”
Harvard will attempt to match tonight’s second-half effort right from the opening whistle.
“What I want is to play 60 minutes of great hockey and we didn’t have that today,” Stone said. “We were able to get it done, but we started slow. I’d really like to get some rhythm going right of the bat.”