PROVIDENCE, R.I. — You’d think that by now St. Lawrence would have learned that Nicole Corriero can’t be overlooked, even when she’s down on the ice.
That’s just what the Saints did 8:48 into the first period when a defender passed the puck in front while Corriero sat at the crease with her back to the net. As the puck crossed into her peripheral vision, she swatted it through Barrie’s five-hole on her backhand. Her goal brought a lasting lead in Harvard’s 2-1 win in the NCAA semifinals.
That goal was the second point Corriero had earned from her knees this season against St. Lawrence — the first was an assist in a regular-season win over the Saints. The greater challenge this time was that Corriero could not see where she was placing the puck.
“I was just trying to swat the puck and get it close to the net because I knew my teammates would crash the net, and I was hoping they would pick up the loose puck or get the rebound, but next thing I knew it went in,” Corriero said.
With the 1-0 lead, Harvard (30-3-1) stayed in control against the Saints (27-10-1). And when Jennifer Raimondi scored at the 18:24 mark of the second period, St. Lawrence faced the challenge of scoring twice against a team that hadn’t allowed as many as two goals in seven straight games.
The Saints played Harvard tougher than last Sunday, despite being without top scorer Gina Kingsbury. ECAC rookie of the Year Chelsea Grills, one of Kingsbury’s usual linemates, stepped up her effort and generated one scoring chance after another before finally setting up new linemate Crystal Connors with 40 seconds left.
Connors’ goal was too little, too late. Harvard never let the Saints enter the offensive zone again.
“The whole team just worked really hard,” Grills said. “Crystal came up to our line and played really well.We had a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net, but it just wasn’t there, and we kept on going until the last minute.”
Harvard’s Ali Boe and St. Lawrence’s Rachel Barrie kept the score low with one textbook save after another. Boe stopped 20 of 21, Barrie 36 of 38.
Boe made the save of the game midway through the third period on the penalty kill, when Harvard left Rebecca Russell wide open at the crease. Russell held up and fired a high shot, but Boe nabbed it with her glove.
For her, it was routine.
“It just kind of slid across, and luckily it found my glove — nothing special,” Boe said.
“When she made that save you almost feel ‘Yup, that’s the one we needed to get us back in there,” Flanagan said. “It would have energized us.”
St. Lawrence still had a 5-on-3 for a minute after Boe’s save, but Harvard killed it off without incident. That was a turning point.
“That was our break, we play a game like that where we’re not getting a lot of chances, and then here’s our break,” Flanagan said. “But they’re so aggressive whether it’s 5-on-4 or 5-on-3. We just lost our composure.”
Harvard played strong defensively despite the absence of junior defenseman Ashley Banfield, who sustained a concussion in the ECAC semifinals. Harvard coach Katey Stone was hopeful Banfield could suit up for the final on Sunday.
The game stayed close until Raimondi all but iced the victory with her late second-period goal. On the play, Caitlin Cahow took the puck around the left side and set up Raimondi for the deflection at the crease.
This was the sixth straight weekend that Harvard needed at least 30 minutes to get its second goal. But these slow starts offensively have been of no consequence when the Crimson isn’t allowing goals itself.
“I don’t think we played our best hockey of the weekend,” Stone said. “I like how we progressed through each period. We kept it simpler — we tried to force it in the first and made it more difficult than it had to be. Again, I’m anxious four Sunday, because I think we’ll play a lot better.”
The win places Harvard in the NCAA final for the second straight season, though against a different opponent in Minnesota. It will be the first-ever NCAA final where the opponents have not faced off during the regular season.
“I think it’s a great matchup,” Stone said. “There’s been a lot of talk about how Minnesota is the fastest team there is. I’m anxious for the opportunity to see if we match up the way I think we’re going to match up with them”
St. Lawrence will head to the ECAC consolation for its fourth meeting this season with Dartmouth. The Saints take plenty of positives from this defeat, in particular the progress of the freshmen, Grills and Connors.
“You can practice for a long time back at St. Lawrence and not gain what we gained tonight in a big-time game with a lot of pressure,” Flanagan said. “It’s invaluable.”