CANTON, N.Y. — Given that Harvard and Brown played to 1-1 and 0-0 draws during the regular season, and each team pulled ECACHL semifinal upsets on the strength of goaltending, there was reason to believe their league final would be a low-scoring game. But anyone who believed that turned out to be wrong.
With an NCAA autobid on the line, both teams played at a blistering pace in the first period and put seven goals on the board. Brown (15-13-5) held leads of 1-0 and 3-1 before the midpoint of the first period, but Harvard (18-12-4) decided not to wait until the intermission to complete its comeback.
ECACHL Tournament MVP Sarah Wilson scored to tie the game 1-1 and to give Harvard a 4-3 lead headed into the second period, and that score stood for the final 40 minutes. The ECACHL postseason title was the third straight for the Crimson. This one was unique in that Harvard achieved it despite three Olympians taking the year off.
“Our program has never been about a couple of superstars, we have done an excellent job establishing depth,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “While we have had a couple of superstars, that is not the only thing we are about.”
Symbolic of this game’s wildness was that Brown sophomore O’Hara Shipe was pulled before the end of the first period, just a day removed from a 42-save shutout against Princeton.
“It wasn’t a very difficult decision to pull Shipe,” said Brown coach Digit Murphy. “After she looked behind her on the second goal I got worried. It’s tough after how she played yesterday.”
The final Crimson comeback began at 12:42 of the first period. When top scorer and senior Jennifer Raimondi fed Wilson wide open in the slot, Shipe stopped the initial shot, but it trickled behind her. Raimondi crashed the net and poked the puck home to make it a 3-2 game.
Just under three minutes later, the Crimson nailed the crucial equalizer on the power play. Again Shipe only got a piece of a Crimson shot, and the puck trickled towards the goal mouth. Two Bears defenders in the crease could not locate the puck, but Jenny Brine could and whacked it home. That was the end of the day for Shipe.
The Bears’ new goalie, Nicole Stock, only let one puck through shortly after replacing Shipe, but that proved to be the difference in the game.
With 1:15 remaining in the first period, Sarah Wilson scored her second goal of the day when she skated the puck out of the corner, circled in front of the net and sniped a shot into the top right corner for the 4-3 lead.
“Harvard really sniped,” Murphy said. “They made their opportunities really count.”
Wilson finished with two goals and an assist. The final performance went a long way towards her MVP honor, as she was held scoreless in Harvard’s previous four ECACHL playoff games.
“It is really exciting,” said Wilson of being named Tournament MVP. “I’m glad I was able to contribute today. I wouldn’t have guessed I would be here today.”
Although there was no scoring in the final two periods, this was not due to a lack of trying. Each side had excellent scoring opportunities, but both Stock and Harvard goalie Ali Boe delivered for their teams. Stock made a phenomenal save on a Wilson breakaway attempt midway through the second period to prevent a hat trick.
However, the save of the game certainly went to Boe, who from the flat on her back blindly denied the Bears’ Frances Male by raising her stick up to bat away the puck during Brown’s only power play opportunity of the game with under 10 minutes remaining in the third period.
“In the second period, it was a totally different defensive zone,” Stone said. “We did what we needed to do. We always address a matter of getting into the game and tightening up the gaps. We did a good job of that from the second period on.”
Due to a call on oft-penalized defenseman Myria Heinhuis with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, the Bears could not mount any charge with the extra attacker.
The Bears suffered a bitter ending for a game with such a promising beginning. They jumped out to a 1-0 lead with 14:10 showing on the clock. Bears forward Hayley Moore received an effective up-ice pass at the Harvard blue line and went in one-on-one. The Harvard defender backed off and gave Moore enough room to fire off a quick wrist shot that just slipped through Crimson goalie Ali Boe, who did not get her pad down in time.
However, the Crimson stormed right back 13 seconds later to level the score. Wilson received a pass from Katie Johnston in the slot and beat Shipe with a shot she had no chance of stopping.
“It is always a motivating effort when you get down early,” said Crimson captain Carrie Schroyer. “Getting the first goal back was big, just a few seconds after theirs, while they were still announcing [the Brown] goal.”
Moore reclaimed the lead for the Bears on a very alert play at 8:29 of the period, as she attacked the net after a Keaton Zucker shot. The puck rebounded right onto the stick of Moore who wasted no time giving the Bears a 2-1 lead with her second goal.
“Hayley is the future of this program, she has led the way on offense and she improves the level of play of everyone she plays with,” Murphy said. “It’s too bad we don’t have more Hayley’s out there.”
Less than a minute after the Moore goal, the Bears extended their lead to 3-1 when Kathryn Moos jabbed the loose puck at the edge of a crease over a sprawled out Boe, after the Crimson defenders failed to clear the puck.
Brown seemed headed for its second straight ECACHL title in an Olympic year, but Harvard raised its intensity level whenever it was behind, and Brown could not counter.
In spite of the loss, Murphy was pleased with her squad’s performance this season.
“We proved that a young team with excellent goaltending can do some wonderful things,” Murphy said.
The Bears’ season concludes, while Harvard will play No. 1 New Hampshire Friday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.