DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire’s first challenge since earning its No. 1 ranking resulted in the Wildcats’ first deficit in over two months, but UNH needed just four minutes to transform the deficit into a 2-1 lead. And despite allowing a season-high shot total and failing on its first five power play attempts against the No. 7 Crimson, the Wildcats managed to pull away in the third period and post another convincing win, this time by a 5-1 margin.
UNH coach Brian McCloskey did not think his team looked as sharp as usual, but he was pleased with the typical balance. Five different players scored, no player had more than two points, and all three lines found the net as the Wildcats (16-2) won their 11th straight.
“All the forwards can play with each other,” said co-captain Lindsay Hansen. “It’s an advantage we have over other teams.”
Forward Jackie Wedster, in her third game since missing last semester, played on the first line with co-captain Nicole Hekle and freshman Angela Taylor and netted the eventual game-winner at 10:51 of the first period. McCloskey had to shuffle lines since sophomore Leah Craig returned from the Canadian U-22 team.
“I think we all know, we’re here to win a national championship,” Wedster said. “And if you’re not playing well, don’t take it personally, there are other people on the bench who are willing to get the job done.”
Harvard (10-6-2) struck first seven minutes into the game when junior Jennifer Sifers dug the puck out of the right side of the net, and fed across to wide-open linemate Liza Solley for the finish. But UNH’s first deficit since its Nov. 5 loss to Boston College lasted just over three minutes, thanks to a triple toe-drag move by sophomore Sadie Wright-Ward, who eluded two defenders and buried the puck in the left side.
“We didn’t play the body today in a number of cases,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “They have very skilled players, but if you don’t play the body, you make someboday look like an all-star, and we made them look like all-stars at times tonight because we just went for the puck, and they just walked right around us.”
Just 1:46 after Wright-Ward’s goal, Wedster brought the puck up on an odd-man rush with Taylor. The Harvard defender drifted back, and Harvard senior Ali Boe left the whole right side of the net open. Wedster thought Boe was tricking her at first, but then she just found the open space for a 2-1 lead.
“That was a classic Jackie goal, as the defender drifted deep, she just got such a good shot,” McCloskey said. “Didn’t surprise me she picked the corner, she does it all the time.”
The 2-1 score held for a scoreless second period, highlighted by three successful Harvard penalty kills, bringing their total to five for the day, and one meager Crimson power play. UNH did manage to cut Harvard’s shot total from 11 in the first down to three in the third. The penalty killing took its toll on the Crimson.
“We weren’t aggressive as we had been playing, which caused us to get some penalties,” Stone said. “You play 5-on-4 for a large part of the game you’re going to be pretty tied. We were doing a good job with that, but it got away from us tonight.”
UNH iced the game when its line of with Shannon Clement and Lindsay Hansen struck twice in the first five minutes of the third period. Clement made the score 3-1 when she one-timed a low shot by defenseman Maggie Joyce from the point.
“Basically, what I was trying to do is stay in front to get rebounds, because that’s how I’ve been able to get the puck in the net lately,” Clement said. “I was fortunate, Maggie was able to lay a good shot low, and I was able to get a piece of it.”
Hansen buried the rebound of a powerful Clement backhand to make the score 4-1.
“We came out with a little more urgency in the third, and you could just see the extra effort,” McCloskey said. “That line was having terrific shifts. Whoever Shannon’s line was out there against in the third, they were certainly dominating them.”
UNH finally scored on the power play at 7:48 of the third period, when Hekle buried the rebound off of a Wedster shot. The goal provided Hekle’s 100th career point and prevented Harvard from being the second team this year to hold UNH without a power play goal. Boston University accomplished that feat in a 5-0 loss in November.
Harvard threatened several times with odd-man rushes early in the game as well as late in the game, but junior Melissa Bourdon held strong with a season-high 23 saves.
“Harvard was getting opportunities because we were taking too long to get the puck out of our own end,” McCloskey said. “We were moving the puck laterally once, when we should have been coming up and out. We kept going back and they’d pick it off, and next thing you know we were in the defensive position.”
Stone believed Harvard is a much better team than it was before Christmas, and the hosts agreed the visitors showed a lot more synergy. She believes the defense and power play are much improved, and Boe has been consistent. There was still plenty of room for improvement, but Stone believes it is fixable.
“We were hesitant in certain situations,” Stone said. “I didn’t think we moved the puck as we could have, as we were used to. We held on to it one or two seconds more and all of a sudden that pass is no longer there, and on the big sheet of ice, the puck has to do the work.”
McCloskey’s words to Stone after the game resembled his words to Mark Johnson after defeating Wisconsin.
“We may see them again,” he said. “They’re an excellent team. I expect that. Katey’s teams always come on strong in the second half.”
UNH does not have much time to rest with games at Maine Friday and Saturday. Harvard will be off for the next couple weeks due to its January exam period.