BOSTON, Mass. — After almost an entire period of scoreless back-and-forth hockey, it appeared that Harvard and Dartmouth were in store for a postseason nail biter in their matchup Saturday afternoon during the quarterfinals round of the NCAA Tournament at the Bright Hockey Center.
But with the final seconds of the first period ticking down, Crimson junior Jenny Brine scored a goal that gave Harvard a 1-0 lead and opened the floodgates for the Crimson offense.
Harvard defeated the Big Green, 5-1, in front of 1,497 fans to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four in Duluth, Minn.
“We got better as the game went on,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “I felt as though we kind of came out with both teams sort of feeling each other out a little bit and had some good opportunities but then all of the sudden started to get on our toes a little bit and maintain our aggressiveness.”
The victory made Stone one of only three coaches to win 300 games in their career, an achievement that Stone downplayed after the game.
“It’s done,” she said. “Honestly if someone hadn’t said something to me today I wouldn’t have known. We don’t think that way in our locker room. We think about the task at hand and stay in the moment.”
The Crimson opened the scoring 19:37 into the first frame when junior Sarah Vaillancourt evaded a Dartmouth defender and found Brine in front of the net. Brine slammed the puck home for her 18th goal of the season and gave Harvard momentum going into the second period.
“We went in the locker room and we were just really energized and ready to go for the second,” Brine said.
The Crimson struck again 9:34 into the second period, taking advantage of a power play opportunity. Junior forward Sarah Wilson found freshman Kate Buesser, who slipped the puck past Dartmouth goalie Carli Clemis.
Harvard claimed a 3-0 advantage just over four minutes later, when a Wilson shot brought Clemis over to the right post, leaving the left side of the net wide open. Vaillancourt picked up the loose puck and went top shelf for the easy score.
With the Crimson running away with the game, Dartmouth came back 16:36 into the second period when sophomore forward Sarah Parsons found open space on the ice and aimed a high shot at Harvard sophomore goalie Christina Kessler. Kessler got a glove on the puck, but couldn’t reel it in as it went past her into the back of the net for Parsons’ 15th goal of the season.
“I think it was set up nicely,” Big Green coach Mark Hudak said. “That’s a tough puck for a goalie to handle with a shooter like that.”
But the Dartmouth defense couldn’t stop the bleeding for long, especially when a rash of penalties put the Big Green at a severe disadvantage. Junior Sarah Newman and senior Carrie Thompson were both sent to the penalty box within a minute of each other, giving the Crimson a 5-on-3 power play.
Harvard capitalized on the opportunity when Vaillancourt struck again, one-timing a pass from junior Katie Vaughn on a textbook play, to give the Crimson a 4-1 goal and essentially put the game out of reach for the Big Green.
“It kind of takes the wind out of your sails a little bit,” Hudak said. “I really think that that was dagger. [It's] pretty tough to come back from something like that.”
Harvard completed its offensive outburst 13:26 into the final period, Brine and Vaillancourt teamed up yet again to bring the score to 5-1. Vaillancourt took the puck behind the net before serving up a backhanded pass to a charging Brine. Brine hit the post on her first shot attempt, but came through on the second for her second goal of the game.
Vaillancourt, a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the best college women’s hockey player, finished the game with two goals and two assists. She now has 62 points on the year.
Both goalies saw a fair share of action on Saturday. While Clemis allowed five scores she also stopped 40 Crimson shots. Kessler, who leads the nation in all major goaltending categories, finished the game with 29 saves.
Special teams played a key role in Harvard’s win. The Crimson was 3-for-4 on the power play and was perfect on the penalty kill.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Stone said. “We have a lot of versatilityWe have some pretty dynamic kids so we can do a lot of things that can help us be successful. Nine times out of ten [on the power play] we score the same kind of goal because we know what we do works.”
The Crimson will now make its first appearance in the Frozen Four since 2005, when it lost in the championship game to Minnesota.