BOSTON, Mass. — When Harvard took a 3-0 lead and 20-3 shot advantage into the first intermission against archrival Dartmouth, everyone knew the game was far from over.
Like most Harvard-Dartmouth games, this one came down to the wire, but this time the No. 6 Crimson (19-6-3, 16-1-2 ECACHL) never surrendered its lead despite every effort to the contrary from the No. 3 Big Green (23-4, 16-3). Harvard triumphed 4-3 and wrapped up its second Ivy title and third ECACHL regular season title in three years before 1,611 fans.
“We had no delusions that they weren’t going to score goals tonight, for sure,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “It was just a matter of getting one more goal than they did.”
That one goal came from sophomore defenseman Lindsay Weaver just before the second intermission. After her previous shift, Weaver watched angrily from the penalty box as Dartmouth netted a power play goal to make it a 3-2 game. On her next shift, she made up for her mistake with a low shot from the point that found its way through traffic into the far corner.
Weaver had been waiting for that moment of celebration against Dartmouth for a long time. She had missed the 6-3 Harvard win over the Big Green earlier this month due to lingering effects from a concussion.
“I just had to keep a positive attitude and go out there, and I was just trying to throw it on net for a tip like we’ve always been practicing,” Weaver said. “I didn’t see it go in, but my teammates said they heard the cling.”
The insurance goal came in handy when Dartmouth top scorer Cherie Piper was given space to circle around the Harvard zone and bury a screen shot of her own 4:37 into third period. Down the stretch, the Crimson kept its composure and didn’t give Dartmouth too many looks at the net. Shots were even at seven in the final period.
“The third period was somewhat up for grabs,” Stone said. “Down the stretch of the third period, I thought we did a nice job of keeping our composure and putting a lot of pressure on them.”
Harvard was the only team with composure during the first seven minutes as Dartmouth dug itself a 2-0 hole. Just 3:38 in, the Big Green surrendered a two-on-one to Harvard’s third line, and sophomore Katie Johnston scored high in the slot off the feed from tri-captain Kat Sweet for the 1-0 lead. At 6:52, freshman Laura Brady tipped a pass across from sophomore Jennifer Sifers through the five-hole of Dartmouth goalie Kate Lane.
“We were trying to be way too offensive,” said Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak. “Instead of clearing the puck, we were trying to poke the puck through and do something with it. Instead of taking the puck deep, we’re like, maybe I can make an extra move. Instead of taking the puck wide, it’s maybe I’ll drive to the middle and see if I can beat three people.”
Harvard widened the gap on a 5-on-3 late in the period when Ashley Banfield found tri-captain Nicole Corriero wide open across the crease for an easy finish. The Crimson could have made it 4-0 on the ensuing 5-on-4 but Sarah Vaillancourt hit the pipe.
“It’s a matter of outworking them, putting pressure on the puck right away and getting sticks in the passing lanes,” Stone said of Harvard’s first period success.. “Nothing flashy and fancy–just the real simple stuff and taking advantage of opportunities.”
Dartmouth too figured out how to the keep things simple in gaining momentum throughout the second period. That took time because the Big Green had battled through uncertainty all week. Piper and Gillian Apps weren’t cleared to play until yesterday, and several other players were battling injuries.
“I think a lot of kids we’re a little worried about, how are we going to play?” Hudak said. “Once we realized we’d be okay, I think some confidence started to build up.”
One of the injured players was co-captain Meagan Walton, who netted Dartmouth’s first goal at 11:48 of the second period. On the power play, Harvard gave up a two-on-one within its own zone, and Walton one-timed a feed across from Tiffany Hagge. Walton scored despite a broken finger from a Canadian Under-22 tournament two weeks ago.
“Hopefully Walton’s finger keeps getting better–she can’t shoot right now,” Hudak said. “She’s a gamer–a lot of them are gamers.”
Dartmouth carried the momentum over to a 5-on-3 opportunity that lasted nearly two minutes. Harvard killed the first penalty thanks to extra efforts by Sarah Vaillancourt and Nicole Corriero, as well as two pucks intercepted in midair by Crimson junior goalie Ali Boe. But the Crimson could not kill the second penalty, as Apps found Weatherston at the back door shortly after the first penalty expired.
“I was bummed because we did such a good job of killing the 5-on-3, and then bang they sink one, and she had made some huge saves there,” Stone said. “Ali Boe was tremendous.”
There was no doubt Dartmouth, who outshot Harvard 13-4 in the second period, was back in the game. But Weaver’s goal was the difference between a win and another tie like last Saturday’s against St. Lawrence.
“Being able to score that goal helped us reassert that we had the lead and we’re still in control of this game, and we don’t need to panic like we did against St. Lawrence where we kind of started to freak out a little,” Corriero said. “We still played relaxed and played confidently.”
In defeat, Dartmouth remained hopeful that its wounds will heal and that its caliber of play will return to the level of earlier this season. Pesky Brown is up next, to be followed by the ECACHL tournament and possibly another shot at Harvard.
“I think we’re pretty equal teams,” Hudak said. “I’m sure it will be another great game if we do see each other again.”
Now that the Ivy title and ECACHL No. 1 seed are wrapped up, Harvard turns its sights to the next goal.
“The Ivy championship certainly feels great, but we have a big game tomorrow,” Corriero said. “This is the beginning of a whole lot of goals we want to accomplish, so we don’t want to get too excited. But we’re still excited.”