BOSTON, Mass. — You can’t blame Cornell coach Melody Davidson for looking ahead to tomorrow. After all, that’s when Harvard freshman Sarah Vaillancourt will be on her side once again.
Vaillancourt tallied two goals and two assists to lead all scorers in the 8-2 Crimson (2-0, 2-0 ECACHL) win over Cornell (0-2, 0-2), her last opponent before she reports for Canadian national team duty in Quebec. There she will meet up again with Davidson, who moonlights as the Canadian head coach.
“Sarah plays with a lot of passion and intensity,” Davidson said. “I would have liked to have done a better job shutting her down, but I’m looking forward to our practice tomorrow afternoon.”
With the game tied 2-2 late in the first period, Vaillancourt’s explosiveness blew it wide open. With just 41 seconds left in the frame, she took a pass from defenseman Jennifer Skinner, deked two defenders, and buried the puck top shelf from just inside the left faceoff circle. Then midway through the second period, she skated a wide circle around the Cornell defense and buried the puck five-hole from the top of the crease for the 4-2 lead. Those first game jitters were long-gone for Vaillancourt.
“I felt really like myself today on the ice,” Vaillancourt said. “It was much easier. I was a lot less nervous.”
Harvard blew the game open with four third-period goals, three of which came on the power play. The first came from tri-captain Nicole Corriero, who put in the rebound of a Vaillancourt shot. Jennifer Raimondi made the score 6-2 just 23 seconds later when she buried the puck after skating quickly into the slot. The last two goals came as sophomore Liza Solley tipped in pucks at the crease on two distinct power plays. The goal total matched her own from all of freshman year.
Harvard finished 3-for-8 on the power play, while Cornell went 0-for-4 – a mild penalty total in this year of college hockey. The officating’s greatest impact on this day came before the officials even arrived. They were tardy and caused an unexpected hour delay in the start time.
That Harvard scored four goals from sources other than top line bodes well for the next three games, during which both Vaillancourt and American Julie Chu will be absent due to the Four Nations Cup tournament.
“I think we started to come into our own in the latter part of this game,” said tri-captain Nicole Corriero. “It’s exciting to see a lot of different players putting up the goals and getting some confidence and getting ready to step it up this year.”
Harvard stepped up early in the game as well. Senior defenseman Ashley Banfield scored the first Harvard goal when she dumped the puck through Cornell goalie Beth Baronick’s five-hole 6:28 into the game. Corriero, who finished with two goals and an assist, gave Harvard a 2-0 lead at 13:21. She put in a superb pass from Chu, who shoveled the puck to Corriero from behind the net after losing her feet.
However, that wasn’t nearly enough to put away the Big Red, who battled back to tie the game 2-2 late in the first period. Vicki Hodgkinson scored on a third-or-fourth chance opportunity, and freshman Caeleigh Beerworth sniped one past Harvard’s Ali Boe when the Crimson gave her all the time in the world from the slot. Boe stopped 16 of 18 for the day.
“We just let them get too many swats at the puck,” said Corriero, speaking of the first goal. “We can’t let a team get that many rebounds and have that many chances to put the puck away. I think it’s just a matter of us being a little more tenacious, blocking out our players, and making sure we don’t let them beat us to the puck.”
Davidson said her team struggled down the stretch because of its youth and its lack of game conditioning at this point of the season. She appreciated the challenge of playing Harvard in the opening weekend.
“Overall I didn’t feel like it was an 8-2 game,” Davidson said. “We did a lot of good things. We have 8 freshmen in our lineup and they played pretty regularly. I’m not happy with the outcome but I’m not overly disappointed either, because I saw what we can do, and I know we’ll be much better next time we see them.”
Cornell will have an easier time against ECAC cellar team Union next weekend, although the Dutchmen did beat the Big Red once last season.
Harvard, meanwhile, will have its hands full playing Providence, Yale and No. 8 Princeton next week without Chu and Vaillancourt, but the team feels it has the depth the handle their absence. Corriero has been practicing on a makeshift top line with junior Raimondi and Carrie Schroyer, who are both vastly improved skaters this season.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone else to step up,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “We look at it as a positive. We’ve done very well when kids have gone away because people answer the call, and we expect the same this year.”