BOSTON, Mass. — Harvard goalie Christina Kessler may only be a sophomore, but she already has a distinguished career’s worth of shutouts to her name.
Kessler’s shutout in No. 1 Harvard’s 3-0 win over No. 9 Clarkson gave her 16 for her career, matching Ali Boe (’06) for the team record. Kessler had struggled in allowing two goals in each of her last four starts, but she was back to her typical stingy form in Saturday’s ECAC semifinal at the Bright Hockey Center. Her 13-save effort cut her goals against average to 0.93 for the season.
Kessler, who tore an ACL the summer before her freshman year, admitted her knees had been bothering her leading up to the Crimson’s quarterfinal series against Cornell last weekend.
“The past two weekends have been a bit off for me,” Kessler said. “I really wanted to get back to my routine.”
Kessler’s efforts led Harvard (30-1-0) in keeping Clarkson (24-9-5) off the scoreboard despite five power plays for the game to one for the Crimson — typical for a Golden Knights team that takes the fewest penalties in the nation.
The Crimson finally broke the deadlock on a bad Clarkson change with 1:49 left in the second period, when freshman Katharine Chute received the puck from Sarah Vaillancourt and buried the puck from the high slot. It was the second time this season Chute had punished Clarkson: she scored the first two goals in the Crimson’s 5-0 win at Bright back in November.
“It was a matter of time before we chipped away and found our opportunities,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone.
Clarkson had its opportunities early in the second period but could not finish. One of the best came early in the second period when Marie-Jo Gaudet fed Brooke Beazer on a two-on-one, but Beazer could not get her stick on the puck.
“[To beat Harvard] it takes a solid, patient defensive game, and then you have to take advantage of your opportunities,” said Clarkson coach Rick Seeley. “You don’t get too many open nets against Kessler, and we missed it, and it’s a totally different game.”
Harvard went up 2-0 early in the third when Harvard junior Jenny Brine put in a loose rebound on a high-slot shot from defenseman Caitlin Cahow. The goal came on Harvard’s only power play opportunity of the afternoon. The Crimson’s 25.9 percent conversion rate is the nation’s second-best.
Crimson freshman Liza Ryabkina, who took three of Harvard’s five penalties, was pleased to make a positive impact on the scoreboard midway through the third period. The Ukraine native has struggled at times to adjust to the complexities of the college game, but her hockey instincts served her well when she converted unassisted from the slot.
Ryabkina said of her upbringing playing men’s hockey in Ukraine, “it was very individualistic. It was just grab the puck and go, never pass to everyone. It was a very tough transition.”
Another adjustment for Ryabkina was the crowd. Most of the two-game session’s attendance of 1,727 showed for the first game. It was the first ECAC women’s championship hosted by Harvard in the event’s 25-year history.
“I had never seen that many people,” Ryabkina said.
Stone hopes for an even bigger crowd for Sunday’s championship game, when there are fewer conflicts with other athletic events. The best crowd ever for a women’s hockey game at Bright was 1,912 against Dartmouth in 2004, and that number is within striking distance. The same could be said for Harvard’s fourth ECAC women’s postseason title in five seasons.
“It’s always awesome to play at home,” Kessler said. “It’s definitely to our advantage, knowing the feeling that this is our home, and no one’s going to beat us here.”