HANOVER, N.H. — A familiar sound at Thompson Arena this season has been the roaring of the crowd as Dartmouth comes from behind, builds momentum and never looks back. It happened to New Hampshire and No. 1 Minnesota in December. It happened to Brown last night. But both times that Dartmouth came back against Harvard this afternoon, Harvard promptly answered, and the loudest sounds amidst a 1,391 crowd at Thompson Arena were coming from the Crimson bench.
In the end, Dartmouth could not find answer to the nation’s leading goal-scorer Nicole Corriero. The Crimson co-captain delivered one of the greatest finishing performances the sport has ever seen with five goals against the nation’s No. 2 team.
Corriero netted the last three goals of a 6-3 victory that guaranteed the ECACHL race between the No. 6 Crimson (13-6-2, 12-1-1 ECACHL) and Big Green (20-2-0, 13-1-0) will come down to the wire. The game was extra-special for Corriero given the Harvard-Dartmouth rivalry. The Big Green had won three straight against Harvard and 11 of its last 15.
“I definitely never could have imagined this against a team like Dartmouth, because they’re so skilled,” Corriero said. “I know a lot of girls on the team so it’s easy to get pumped up for a game like this. It was my last game probably in Thompson Arena, so I wanted to go out with a bang.”
“It was a great game because everyone was hustling. The bench was awesome. Everybody was just supporting one another. Right now I can’t think of a win more satisfying than this one. It was between Harvard and Dartmouth for me when I was being recruited, Harvard-Dartmouth definitely has a special place whenever the game comes around.”
Harvard went ahead for the good on Corriero’s third goal at 19:03 of the second period. Just 13 seconds before, Dartmouth’s Gillian Apps had stripped the puck behind the net, and Tiffany Hagge finished off Apps’ wrap-around to tie the game at three.
The Big Green appeared headed for the second intermission with all of the momentum, but Corriero wasted no time in taking it back. In what has become a routine play for Corriero, she carried the puck down the left side with two defenders bearing down on her, and she still managed to get off a close-range shot. This one first found goalie Kate Lane, but she lost her balance and lost the puck as it deflected back off Corriero into the top corner of the net.
“When they were able to mount some offense, we were able to answer back right away,” Corriero said. “That just shows the resilience of the team and the fact that we weren’t going to get too fazed or intimidated by them and the fact that they’re No. 2 in the country.”
In the second intermission, Harvard coach Katey Stone told her players to act like they’ve been in this situation before, as most of them have, so in the third period, the Crimson left little room for doubt in the game’s outcome. Corriero did the scoring, first converting a breakaway off a Julie Chu home-run pass for a 5-3 lead at 4:18 and then an empty-netter from center ice in the final minute. Three lines of Crimson forwards and the full complement of defensemen did the little things right to shut down the nation’s most prolific offensive team, which shortened up to two lines early on to come from behind.
“They had their top players out more often, but we were a lot more rested, so we were able to keep the pressure on and did not have to play passive hockey,” Corriero said. “I know all the top forwards on that team and how amazing they are, and if you give them some room in the offensive zone they’ll work some magic. It was so great how we were able to contain them just by putting on a lot of pressure and being offensive.”
Dartmouth needed just 39 seconds of the first period to show off what it could do with some space, as the Crimson surrendered a breakaway to Apps off a long pass from senior Meagan Walton. Corriero did the same on the other end at 6:48 when Chu found her open for a break down the left side to tie the game at one.
“She certainly has a knack for the net for scoring and she has some pretty awesome linemates that are able to help her out too,” Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak said of Corriero. “You can’t focus on any one person out there. It’s a great line.”
The Crimson set the tone for the rest of the game with its red hot power play, which scored on two of its first three chances. The first came from Corriero for a 2-1 lead, courtesy of great passing back and forth between her and defenseman Ashley Banfield at 11:04 of the first period. The second was scored by Julie Chu from the point through traffic after a D-to-D pass from Caitlin Cahow at 9:08 of the second period. That goal gave Harvard a 3-2 lead, just 93 seconds after Dartmouth had scored a power play goal of its own to tie the game at two.
The Harvard power play’s 11-for-25 clip in its last three games has boosted its season ranking to fourth-best in the country. Prior to that, it was operating at less than a 20 percent clip.
“We were trying to do too much with the puck before and caused ourselves more trouble than we needed to,” Stone said. “Now we’re letting the puck do the work, beating people with the pass. It’s making a difference. When we have that lane to shoot, we’re putting traffic in front of the net, and good things are happening.”
Some of the improvement is a result of Harvard making a few adjustments in personnel and positioning, but Corriero attributed it more to work ethic.
“From the beginning of the year on the power play we were kind of just expecting the puck to come to us instead of being proactive and trying to go out there and get it,” Corriero said. “By us working harder and hustling and putting two or sometimes three players on the puck, and working hard to get it back, I think that was a big difference.”
The Harvard penalty kill was as impressive as the power play. The Crimson limited Dartmouth to a 1-of-6 rate and killed a minute-long 5-on-3 late in the first period. The Crimson cleared the puck early and often and kept its shifts short to wear down the top Dartmouth unit. The only lapse came at 7:35 of the second period when Harvard’s forecheckers got caught up ice, and Hagge converted a 4-on-2 from Katie Weatherston and Cherie Piper–the only points all afternoon for the nation’s fifth and sixth-leading scorers.
Harvard held Dartmouth’s offensive threats to their lowest-matching goal total of the season despite a defensive unit that was missing sophomore Lindsay Weaver and had Banfield as its only senior. Freshman Jessica MacKenzie shined in Banfield’s pairing today, and when she slipped up, Banfield was there to bail her out.
“Ashley’s stepped up as a huge leader in our program, and not just in general,” Stone said. “She’s taken Jessica MacKenzie under her wing and some of these younger defensemen. I think you see the difference in how much we’ve matured here very quickly, having someone like Ashley who has been supportive but demanding of those other kids to play at a different level.”
Junior Ali Boe stopped 20 of 23 shots for Harvard in far and away her best performance against a top-four team this season. She flashed her leather a lot more than usual and made saves in the way she needed to at the right time. Kate Lane stopped 29 for Dartmouth.
“Ali Boe played great,” Stone said. “She didn’t see a lot of shots at times, and there was a lot of traffic in front of her, but she was very sticky when the puck came to her, so there weren’t multiple shots. She answered the bell as well.”
Dartmouth’s loss was its first since faltering to No. 1 Minnesota last December. The Big Green can only hope to do better in the rematch at the end of February.
“I thought we played a good game, but I don’t think we played a great game like Harvard did,” Hudak said. “They were just doing the little things right. Passes were crisp. They were stick-to-stick. We were just a little off.”
The Crimson re-established itself as a serious national contender with today’s victory, after having slipped up in four straight games against the WCHA’s best teams earlier this season. Stone expects her team to maintain the same caliber of play in the Beanpot semifinals on Tuesday.
“We have a strong tradition in our program, we’ve got great players in our program and we’re going after this thing,” Stone said. “This is again one big win in hopefully a season of a lot of big games.”