DURHAM, N.H. — For the first time since 2002, Harvard will not be in the NCAA Frozen Four. On Friday night at the Whittemore Center, the torch was passed to a new Eastern power.
That team is New Hampshire, and the honor has been a long time coming. Unbeaten in their last 28 entering the NCAA tournament, the No. 1 Wildcats (33-2-1) kept rolling through NCAA play with a 3-1 win over ECACHL champion No. 8 Harvard (18-13-4). One good omen for UNH — the previous four teams to beat Harvard in the NCAA tournament have won the national title.
UNH’s top-ranked power play proved to be the difference on the scoreboard as it converted on its first two attempts, and the Wildcats killed all Harvard penalties prior to the game’s final minute. The combination of the special teams and UNH’s puck possession meant the game’s outcome was never much in doubt — just like most Wildcat games this season.
“We started controlling the puck like crazy in the second period, and that did them in,” said UNH tri-captain Martine Garland.
“A lot of their kids, if they’re lacking in speed, they’re not lacking in hands, or vice versa,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said of the Wildcats. “When they get the puck, they make the right play.”
UNH made the entire evening difficult for Harvard by putting quality shots on goal. The bulk of UNH shots went through screens or were redirected right in front of the net. Had it not been for senior Ali Boe and her 35 saves the game would have been far more lopsided.
“We were able to take advantage of their young D — they couldn’t keep up with us down low when our forwards got it in deep,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “They played a smart game. That was the kind of game they had to play. Had they not taken penalties or shut down our power play it could have been a one-goal game.”
Boe, whose 40-save effort led Harvard to a stunning upset of No. 3 St. Lawrence in last week’s ECACHL title run, made the score look far closer than the game really was.
“They worked it well out of the corner, and they got it in tight, but it was something we were prepared for,” Boe said. “They work the puck around pretty well and create a lot of havoc in front of the net They just controlled the puck, and we did the best we could.”
After 10 minutes during which neither team established much flow, New Hampshire broke the game open on the power play. Harvard cleared the puck on the first two UNH attacks, and then Boe stopped a point-blank deflection from immovable sophomore Jennifer Hitchcock in front.
Despite Boe’s efforts, Harvard could not clear the puck. Crafty Sadie Wright-Ward worked the puck back to Garland, who set up another deflection for Hitchcock. This time Hitchcock found the net for the 1-0 lead at 11:42 of the first period.
“When we get the power play going, it’s huge momentum for us,” Hitchcock said.
Three minutes later, UNH’s top line proved how it could be dangerous even without the puck. After Hitchcock and Sam Faber worked the puck back to Garland in the high slot, they proceeded to create havoc in front, and Garland threaded the puck through interlacing bodies for the 2-0 lead.
“On [Garland's] shot from the point, teams just have trouble getting in front of it,” Hitchcock said.
Halfway through the second period, Harvard took another penalty, and UNH scored a third goal, though this time the Crimson held off the Wildcats until the last seven seconds of the power play. Crimson senior Jennifer Raimondi gathered a rebound in front off a shot from defenseman Amy McLaughlin, but Maggie Joyce stripped the puck into the net with one whack of her stick for the 3-0 lead.
Like most Wildcat opponents this year, Harvard could not match UNH’s skill in breaking out the puck. The Crimson occasionally mounted an attack on individual efforts — Jenny Brine broke in alone in the first period after skating through a few defenders but could not lift the puck for what could have been a game-altering finish. In the second period, speedy Jennifer Sifers blew by the UNH defense but could not convert on a tough angle.
“I thought we were a little sloppy with the puck at times,” McCloskey said. “They didn’t generate, but they had situations that were potentially dangerous. They did walk through us a couple of times. Those were basically turnovers on our part. That was a little uncharacteristic.”
McCloskey was particularly disappointed with the third period, as Harvard kept hanging around. After Sarah Wilson found some space in the slot with just under 30 seconds left and threaded the puck through UNH goalie Melissa Bourdon to make it a 3-1 game, Harvard called timeout, and then continued to threaten until the final whistle.
“Maybe I’m agitated because I thought we could have opened it up, maybe I could have relaxed a bit, but there was no relaxing until the final buzzer,” McCloskey said.
Harvard’s goal snapped UNH’s shutout streak of six games (461:58). Bourdon, who started four of those shutouts, lost her shutout streak at 341:49. She had 15 saves overall tonight.
For Harvard, the game marked the end of a run to close out the season that exceeded most expectations, although the team still had aimed for more.
“A lot of really good things happened today,” Stone said. “We had a great effort from Ali Boe, which we’ve had all year. I’m very proud of our players. Certainly a lot of people didn’t imagine we’d get to this point.”
UNH advances to its first Frozen Four to play at a Minnesota program that has been there for five straight years. The Wildcats know they will need a better third period to advance much further.
“They’ve got all the ingredients to get themselves to the next step,” Stone said. “I don’t know whether that will happen, but they certainly have it all.”