BOSTON, Mass. — Adrenaline can do amazing things. Mercyhurst and Harvard’s epic NCAA quarterfinal on Saturday rewrote the tournament record books with 143 shots, three overtimes, 112 minutes of regulation time, and 257 minutes of actual time. Feeding off the energy of a rabid bipartisan crowd, both teams refused to let the game-winner come easily. But in the final minutes, Harvard and its top line found a pace that couldn’t be matched.
A series of quick passes transitioning the Crimson (25-6-3) into the offensive zone ended with Nicole Corriero finding Julie Chu in front for a backhanded finish over Mercyhurst goaltender Desi Clark. As the goal light flashed, Chu jumped as high in the air as she had shot the puck, and the Harvard bench poured onto the ice to celebrate the 5-4 victory.
“She’s got very good celebration vertical and it was definitely her personal best,” Corriero said.
“I’m one of the most awkward people when I score a goal because I don’t really know what do, so I just jump,” Chu added.
Mercyhurst (28-7-2) had never trailed the entire game, behind the All-American caliber goaltending of senior Desirae Clark, who blew away the NCAA tournament record with 78 saves. The Lakers led 3-1 after the first intermission and 4-3 after the second but could not find a way to cover Harvard’s Nicole Corriero, who set her own tournament records with five points and four goals, three on the power play.
“Desi gives us a chance to win every night,” said Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti. “We came here with a plan to win. We were going to empty the tank and felt if we did we’d win the game. Unfortunately it didn’t work out.”
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a bigger goaltending effort than Desi put up today,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone.
The 83 shots were more than Clark had faced in her last five starts combined. On the other end, Harvard junior Ali Boe stopped 56 of 60 to come on strong after a difficult first period.
“I will always remember this game, it’s my favorite game since I’ve been at Mercyhurst,” Clark said. “I was just feeding off everybody else, their bandour fans, our team, it was amazing that we kept going.”
The overtime periods alone featured 34 shots for Harvard and 28 for Mercyhurst. The first extra frame started well for Mercyhurst, who killed off a Harvard a power play and promptly gained a two-man advantage of its own. When Harvard killed that off, there was indication that the 1,013 fans would be there for a while. The Crimson didn’t mind the wait.
“We say we’ve got lights on this pond,” said Chu. “We’ll be out there as long it takes I contribute to this win to our defense. They played tough but they had a lot of pressure from Mercyhurst. Offense always takes care of itself in a certain way. Defense you really need to be precise about it.”
The Crimson top line, particularly on two more power plays in the second overtime, provided one near-miss after another — shots went just wide, and reaction times were just short. And much of the overtime consisted of the Harvard second and third lines biding time and producing an occasional offensive opportunity.
“Today Mercyhurst battled hard the entire game,” Corriero said. “Their D did a great job of blocking out our forwards because it was tough for us to get the rebounds. On that side it was just our conditioning that came in as a factor. Julie was able to find that energy and Desi Clark is an amazing goalie. Straight on shots aren’t going to beat her.”
The Harvard defense, meanwhile, wasn’t allowing many opportunities in the way of transition during the overtime. Mercyhurst, as is its trademark, succeeded in creating havoc on the forecheck at times.
“We felt down the stretch some of their players were looking at the scoreclock, and we were just feeding off the energy and excitement of the fans,” Sisti said. “I thought the longer the game went on the better our chances were.”
The Lakers often managed to dig the puck out from behind the net back to the points, who unloaded into traffic. But Boe stopped everything that came her way.
“We came in flurries, and Boe made some key saves when she had to,” Sisti said. “I don’t think they got this far without quality goaltending.”
Harvard didn’t stop those Mercyhurst flurries early in the game. The Crimson was a step slow coming out of the gates, and the Lakers created plenty of turnovers with their forecheck. Mercyhurst went up 2-0 just 8:12 into the game on goals by Samantha Shirley and Danielle Lansing. Both were generated simply by throwing the puck into chaos in front.
Corriero scored her first of three power play goals at 15:39 of the first period as Chu fed her down low to half the deficit, but CHA Player of the Year Teresa Marchese re-upped the Laker lead to 3-1 when Stefanie Bourbeau stripped the puck from Crimson defenseman Ashley Banfield as Harvard was transitioning out and the Lakers converted the 3-on-1.
Boe stopped just three of 17 in the first period, but 42 of 43 the rest of the way.
“The first goal I think went in off of one of the kids, and that messes up your mind if you’re a goaltender, you’re in the position and there’s not much you can do,” Stone said. “That might have affected her a bit, then she bounced back and she was tremendous the rest of the way. The times they scored after that first goal, we struggled defensively in front of her, and then we sort of got ourselves together.”
Harvard came out at a faster pace in the second period. Corriero scored from Sarah Vaillancourt and Chu just 23 seconds into the first period and 7:46 into the second period from Chu on the power play to tie the game at 3-3.
The Lakers took advantage of sloppy Crimson defensive coverage to take the 4-3 lead at 15:20 of the second period as Marchese held the puck behind the net and fed Stephanie Jones in front for the finish.
Marchese helped give it back to Harvard when she tripped up Corriero from behind with two seconds left in the period, as the Crimson tri-captain was doing a routine follow-through of an iced puck. Corriero promptly buried the rebound off a Sarah Vaillancourt shot 38 seconds into the third period to tie the game 4-4.
Scoring within the first minute after both the first and second intermissions was the bulk of Harvard’s comeback effort.
“We just wanted to make sure we set the pace,” Chu said. “We weren’t happy with our first period down 3-1 There were defensive breakdowns so we just wanted to make sure when we came back out we were ready to go and fired up.”
The 4-4 score held for the next 71 minutes and 50 seconds. In the end, it was a matter of who could gain that one rush of momentum that would overwhelm everything else. Both teams drew not only from their own offensive opportunities but also their defensive stops. Chu’s rush of energy proved to be the difference in the end.
Said Chu, “You realize how important that team dynamic and support is when you come off and you’re dripping with sweat and you don’t think you’re going to be able to push any harder, and they’re like, ‘Hey you can do it.’ And they look you in the eyes, and you’re like, ‘We can do it.’”