BOSTON, Mass. — No. 3 New Hampshire’s 3-0 win at No. 9 Harvard Saturday afternoon was consistent with the both team’s performances to date. The Wildcats dominated puck possession, Harvard senior goalie Ali Boe kept the game close, but two power play goals and a fortunate bounce at even strength gave UNH an impressive seventh straight win going into winter break.
“We really controlled the puck, which has been our trademark,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “Our special teams were outstanding again but that’s been the case all year.”
Sophomore Leah Craig scored the first two goals for UNH (12-2) and assisted on the third. She now has five points in her last two games since being moved to the second line with Sadie Wright-Ward. She had been held scoreless in five of her six previous games before then.
Boe stopped 27 of 30 shots for Harvard (7-5-2), who kept the game even until there were 19 seconds left in the first period.
“Ali’s the most consistent player we have,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “She’s been the same performer day in and day out. She was under assault. UNH was a very good team. They move the puck well. They hit the low kid a lot. It was a scary game to play in as a goaltender and defenseman.”
Late in the first period, the Crimson killed four straight minutes of UNH power play, with a little help from the pipe hit by UNH defenseman Amy McLaughlin. But a third penalty at the end of period proved too much too handle, as the defense broke down, and Craig deposited a loose rebound with Ali Boe off her feet for the 1-0 Wildcat lead.
“It’s funny, playing against our own [penalty kill] in practice it gets frustrating because we never score,” Craig said. “So when we get in a game like this, it is frustrating when you have so many opportunities, but you got to keep working at it and hope it goes in.”
“It’s disappointing that we make the big saves, then the puck sits there,” Stone said, reflecting on the first goal. “We’ve got to be much more determined where we put the puck. We were a little careless with the puck in the defensive end in the first and second period.”
UNH dominated the first half of the second period, and despite several excellent setups, the Wildcats were consistently one touch short of getting the puck in the net. Luck finally went their way with 8:33 to go in the period, when Craig fired a high backhand as she skated across the net, and Boe failed to stop it off her shoulder. Boe said it was one she should have had, while Craig thought she was a little lucky.
Harvard was whistled for a penalty immediately after falling behind 2-0, and added to its misery with a bad change on the penalty kill. Wright-Ward easily cashed in on the 2-on-1 for 3-0 lead.
The game’s outcome was never much in doubt from then on, with Harvard failing to mount a consistent attack. The Crimson still played hard in the third period, while UNH had some sloppy stretches, but it made little difference in the outcome.
UNH was the first team to shut out Harvard since a 6-0 win for Providence in Nov. 2001.
“You’ve got to be able to generate something through the neutral zone, and we were a little flat-footed,” Stone said. “They have very good defensemen. They stay up, they pressure, and don’t give you a lot.”
Harvard only had nine shots in the first two periods combined.
“Their forwards were cycling the puck well down low and putting a lot of pressure on our defense,” Boe said. “That made it tougher for them to get it up to our wings. They held the blue line really well, so that made it tough to get out of the zone. In the first period we struggled trying to go up the middle, but for us the key was to try to hit it off the boards and get after it, and beat their forecheck.”
McCloskey could sympathize with the Crimson’s growing pains in the first half of this season.
“She’s got three freshmen on the blue line,” McCloskey said of Stone’s team. “That’s tough. I was there last year.”
UNH goalie Melissa Bourdon stopped 16 shots for the shutout, and she erased a few Wildcat breakdowns down the stretch. She kept her focus despite facing just three shots in the first period–a source of trouble for her earlier in the season.
UNH is firing on all cylinders heading into break. The team will get back together on Dec. 26, and play its next game on Jan. 1 against Dartmouth. They have earned Stone’s respect.
“They’ll be one of the team’s down the stretch of the season,” Stone said. “They’ve got good goaltending, very good defensemen. You see what one defenseman can do by making one move and getting out of the zone. It frees everything up. They’ve got kids who are very savvy.”
Harvard’s next game is also against Dartmouth, but on Wednesday before their break. Although neither team is ranked among the top four as in the past several seasons, it’s still a game both teams look forward to.
“I’m expecting it to be a good game, it always is against Dartmouth,” Boe said. “It doesn’t matter how good either team is, it’s always a big game against Dartmouth.”