BOSTON, Mass. — Love was not blind at Bright Hockey Center this afternoon, but Harvard wanted it to seem that way.
The No. 6 Crimson’s extra effort to screen Yale goaltender Sarah Love paid off as a 2-1 deficit at the game’s midway point turned into a sudden 11-2 blowout. Harvard (11-6-2, 10-1-1 ECAC) had combined for just three goals against Love in its previous two meetings, including the program’s first loss to the Bulldogs (10-11-1, 8-4-1) in 20 years last November.
“We needed to put some traffic in front of their goaltender and that was really the difference that opened things up,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “When she stopped seeing the puck, she had a really hard time. The first period we let her look at everything, and she’s good, so she’s going to save it all.”
The Crimson scored four goals in less than four minutes of the second period to blow the game open. Sophomore Jennifer Sifers started the rally when she tipped in a long shot through traffic from linemate and classmate Liza Solley at 14:46. The goal ignited a series of eight different goal scorers — an unprecedented feat for a team that has typically relied on its top line.
“Our line talked about it before this game — we need a goal,” Sifers said. “We need to start producing here. We just can’t let the first line do everything for our team, and I think it helped our team and our line gain some confidence.”
After Sifers’ goal, Yale captain Erin Duggan took a roughing penalty behind the net, and Crimson freshman Sarah Vaillancourt promptly scored 18 seconds later to give Harvard its first lead. Yale took another penalty shortly thereafter, and Vaillancourt scored again, though she needed 21 seconds this time. The 4-2 deficit was the beginning of the end for the Bulldogs.
“We played a great game in the first, but then we just stopped playing disciplined hockey,” said Yale coach Hilary Witt. “When you start taking stupid penalties, you cannot win against a team like this.”
Both of Vaillancourt’s goals came through traffic when she was given space to shoot from the left faceoff circle. Harvard was playing its usual 5-on-4 set like a 5-on-3 in order to create traffic in front. Playing back on the power play was atypical for Vaillancourt, but the adjustment worked wonders in this game. The Crimson finished 5-of-10 on the power play.
“That was a really smart idea for Katey Stone,” Vaillancourt said. “I think it worked really well. [The Yale players] were really confused the first time. That shows how smart our coach is by adjusting really quickly to the other team.”
The pair of goals was particularly satisfying for Vaillancourt, because she had been frustrated by Yale’s physical defense, which received far fewer whistles than the Harvard crowd evidently wanted.
“I just kept that anger, and instead of revenging on the players on the other team, I just revenged on goals, and that was way better for our team,” Vaillancourt said.
The pair of power play goals opened the floodgates for Harvard. In the end, Vaillancourt finished with two goals and four assists, and co-captain Nicole Corriero had two goals and an assist. Katie Johnston on the third line and Sifers on the second line each had multiple-goal games. Sifers and Johnston had combined for just one goal this season prior to today.
“I definitely have made it one of my goals to start shooting,” Sifers said. “Last year I didn’t take many shots at all, but I think it just came with confidence. I said if I put the puck on net, it’s going to eventually go in, and I think this year it’s coming through, finally.”
Harvard junior Ali Boe stopped 18 of 20 shots in the victory. Love stopped 30 of 39 before being pulled for Shivon Zilis, who stopped eight of 10.
Yale took it to Harvard right from the opening whistle. Senior Nicole Symington scored 1:40 into the game after she was left all alone in the slot to receive a pass by Sheila Singler from the end line. Harvard knotted the score 1-1 at 6:38 when Vaillancourt fed across to Corriero for a one-timer in the slot. Sophomore Jenna Spring put Yale ahead 2-1 just two minutes later when she stole the puck for a breakaway at center ice.
But unlike the 3-2 loss to Yale earlier this season, Harvard came back. A significant difference this time was the presence of Vaillancourt and Julie Chu, who both missed the last meeting due to national team duty.
“I was real disappointed when we played them the first time,” Vaillancourt said. “I heard that we didn’t win, and all the players on the national team were making fun of me, but I was like, we’ll get them next time.”
The added contributions of the Harvard players who experienced that loss first-hand made a difference as well. They are better equipped now than they were last November. Yale has since struggled, having gone 1-8-1 in its last 10 after a 9-3-0 start.
“The extra sprints in practice have given us the motivation to start winning,” Sifers said. “The first period of this game was also slow, but we knew in our hearts the whole time we’d get it done.”
“After losing to them in the beginning of the year, there’s no better message than beating them by nine goals.”