NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Since holding Harvard off the scoreboard for 59:53 in an excruciating 1-0 loss back in March, Yale has had some unfinished business.
Friday night, at Ingalls Rink, they finished it.
For the first time since Nov. 18, 1984, the Bulldogs defeated Harvard, dropping the No. 3 Crimson by a 3-2 score, behind 48 saves from junior goalkeeper Sarah Love and a big performance from the senior class.
“We were pretty much going out there with the same team [as last year], so they still feel the effects of that loss last year,” said Yale coach Hillary Witt, who saw her Bulldogs improve their record to 3-2-0 (2-1-0 ECACHL) and snap a 39-game losing streak to their arch-rivals. “You can’t take anything away from Harvard. They’re a good team, and they work so hard, and I’m sure this is a tough loss for them right now. I’m just happy we’re on the other side for once.”
“My hat’s off to Yale and their goaltender,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone, whose team drops to 2-1-1 (2-1-0 ECACHL). “Their kids played really hard. They kept coming at us all the time. It’s a great win for them. On the other side, yes, we’re disappointed. However, I am very proud of the effort that my kids put forth.”
Harvard dropped to 0-1-1 in its last two games without national team stars Julie Chu and Sarah Vaillancourt.
On playing shorthanded this week, Stone said, “One of the things about our program is that we do have these national team players, and it’s a big plus for us. We’ve been able to weather the storm without them in the past. We are not a team of superstars, so it gave us an opportunity for other kids to step up.
“Next year, we’re not going to have any national team players, so you’re going to have to step up and get it done. We just have to figure out a way to win these games, that’s all.”
Harvard failed to step up at 9:16 of the third period, when Yale senior defenseman Erin Duggan put Yale up 3-1 with the eventual game-winner off a feed from Sheila Zingler.
“I saw Kelsey [Johnson] out front, wide open, and I tried to hit her with a pass,” Duggan said. “It hit a stick, and Sheila was lucky enough to get the rebound. I came around the back of the net, and it was sitting on the goal line.”
On getting a long-awaited win over Harvard, Duggan said, “This is what I came to Yale for. It’s definitely the turning point of this program.
“My freshman year, we’d lose to this team 8-1, 9-1, and just because they didn’t get 10 goals, that was a feat. I can’t even explain what it means after four years.”
The waiting didn’t get any easier in the final hours, as Friday’s contest was a wild and wooly affair that kept the 832 fans in attendance on the edge of their seats until the final seconds.
Yale drew first blood early on, as Duggan’s classmate Nicole Symington converted on a rebound from Johnson. Harvard goalkeeper Emily Vitt (28 saves) made a pad save on Johnson’s wide shot, and Symington was there to send it five-hole for the go-ahead tally.
Harvard outshot Yale in the first, 16-9, but Love was up to the task each time, giving her Bulldogs a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
“We knew that last year, we played a great game,” Love said. “They scored a late goal to win it, and it was like they’d won a championship. This game, we just wanted to go out there, after the big [9-1] loss to Dartmouth last weekend, and prove what kind of team we are, that that’s not who we are.”
The Crimson outshot Yale 14-7 in the second period, but the Bulldogs continued to make their shots count, as Kelsey Johnson scored her own goal at the 4:13 mark to extend Yale’s lead to 2-0.
Harvard did finally solve Love with 9:43 left in the period, as sophomore defenseman Caitlin Cahow put Harvard on the board with a power-play tally. Still, as the teams went to the locker room at the second intermission, Love had 27 saves, and Harvard was staring at a 2-1 deficit.
The deficit widened early in the third, thanks to Duggan’s goal, her fourth of the season. However, Harvard was able to get a second goal from Jennifer Skinner in controversial fashion. Initially, it appeared that Love had saved Skinner’s shot, but after a conference by the officials, it was ruled a goal, bringing Harvard back within one.
“The girl shot it out from behind the goal line, right at my feet,” Love said. “So, I kicked it out, and then I just came across. I don’t even know what happened after that.”
The Bulldogs faced a major test in the next minute, as penalties to Zingler and junior Natalie Babony gave the Crimson a 5-on-3 power play. However, Yale was able to kill off the penalties, which didn’t surprise Witt.
“To be honest, when it was 5-on-3, I was very confident,” Witt said. “We’re very good at killing off 5-on-3s. I’m a little more nervous on 5-on-4s for some reason. If there’s one thing that those guys are comfortable doing, it’s penalty killing, probably because we’re in the penalty box a lot. They’re used to it.”
Harvard had one more chance in the last 30 seconds, as a delay of game penalty allowed Stone to pull Vitt for a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Bulldogs held tough, and came away with a historic win.
Duggan added, “I told them before we went out there for the third period, ‘This is what everyone on this team came to this school for, to turn this program around, and let the rest of the nation know that we can play hockey.’”
For their next trick, the Bulldogs will attempt to let No. 8 Brown know how they can play, as the Bears visit Ingalls for a Saturday afternoon tilt. Meanwhile, Harvard will try to salvage a split, as they travel to No. 8 Princeton. Both games start at 4 p.m
Elliot Olshansky is an assistant editor for CollegeSports.com.