BOSTON, Mass. — In Friday night’s season opener against Colgate, Harvard unveiled its latest offensive weapons – freshman Sarah Vaillancourt and the new and improved Jennifer Raimondi. The junior edition of Raimondi has just as much heart as ever, but now speed, strength and precision like never before.
Raimondi assisted on Vaillancourt’s first career goal to open scoring 11:10 into the first period and scored Harvard’s second goal to lift the No. 3 Crimson (1-0, 1-0 ECACHL) to a 3-1 victory over Colgate (3-3, 0-1 ECACHL). Sophomore goaltender Rebecca Wheeler made 31 solid saves, and it took top-shelf sniper shots from Vaillancourt and Raimondi to beat her.
Raimondi’s goal was a testament to her improved skating and shooting in the offseason. As Raimondi took a pass from Jennifer Skinner into the offensive zone, the nearest Colgate defenseman lost her footing, but Raimondi’s held true as she picked up her pace. Seeing nothing but open ice in front of her, she put her head down, blew by the opposition, and turned to the net. With her newly created space, she made a statement by burying the puck in the goal’s upper right corner, the toughest target available.
“That’s my favorite shot. That’s where I’m going to go most times,” Raimondi said facetiously.
Great and beautiful were the words Harvard coach Katey Stone used to describe Raimondi’s goal. She credited Raimondi for vast improvement in the offseason.
“I worked really hard this offseason just to work on my skating,” Raimondi said. “In college hockey, you’ve got to be fast and I needed to be quicker, so that was one of my goals this summer, to get stronger and be a bigger presence on the ice. As a junior, I got to play a bigger role.”
Raimondi’s goal with 1:32 left in the second period was a perfect complement to Vaillancourt’s first goal of the game just over seven minutes earlier. After Raimondi put a long shot on net, tri-captain Nicole Corriero dug out the rebound from deep in the crease, and the puck skirted back to Vaillancourt at the right faceoff circle. From there, Vaillancourt fired the puck through traffic into the opposite corner, and the first goal celebration of her Harvard career ensued.
“When I scored the goal tonight, to be honest, I had tears in my eyes,” Vaillancourt said. “It’s always special to wear the jersey for the first time.”
This goal was all the more special because of how hard Vaillancourt had to work to get it. Linemates Corriero and Julie Chu fed her with all kinds of goal-scoring opportunities in the first period, but she struggled to find the quality shot she needed. But given time, she found a way.
“The jitters were there, and pulling the trigger was a little bit tough,” Stone said. “I’m glad Sarah got her first goal tonight, because she was trying so hard, and when you try too hard you never get it, you’ve just got to relax and let the game come to you.”
Harvard limited the Raiders to just 10 shots on goal, out of which junior goaltender Ali Boe stopped nine. Their goal came with just over five minutes left into the game, when a lobbing outside shot from Allison Paiano found its way off Boe’s back into the net to cut the deficit to 2-1. But it was of little consequence as Corriero netted the empty net clincher with two seconds left.
Harvard’s first game under the new officiating emphasis ended with 25 penalties. As usual, both coaches expressed frustration with the number of penalties, but praised the officials’ consistency within this game.
“It’s no fun to watch, no fun to coach,” said Colgate coach Scott Wiley. “I’ve got kids sitting on the bench not doing anything. It’s tough. You practice power play and penalty kill all week, and it’s only certain people. You have kids sitting 10-15 minutes at a stretch.”
Colgate finished 1-for-11 on the power play, and Harvard was 1-for-8 in its first experience with the tighter officiating. The new look top unit for Harvard featured Chu and sophomore Caitlin Cahow at the points, Corriero and Vaillancourt on the sides, and Raimondi in front. The Crimson was pleased with its penalty kill and vowed to improve its power play in the future, beginning with tomorrow’s game against Cornell.
The brightest spot for Colgate was Wheeler’s play in net. She handled nearly every shot cleanly and greatly limited the number of dangerous second chance opportunities. In starting Wheeler, Wiley benched preseason All-League goalie Rebecca Lahar. Wheeler had won her start against Wayne State last week, and Lahar had lost hers. On this day, Wiley went with his gut and the hot hand.
“Brooke Wheeler is a sophomore who just needs some time, and we have to find a way to get her to play against good teams and see what she can do,” Wiley said. “Rebecca Lahar is one of the best in the country, but she’s a senior, and I have to start looking for the future a little bit, and I thought tonight was a good opportunity.”
Wiley faces a tough decision in net when Colgate heads to Brown tomorrow.