It would be remiss to call Friday night’s showdown between No. 4 Dartmouth and No. 1 Harvard at the Bright Center a “rematch.”
Much has changed since the Crimson won their last meeting in November. Dartmouth’s superstar Canadian freshmen Gillian Apps and Cherie Piper were absent for the Four Nations Cup back then, and the rest of the team didn’t really show up either. As coach Judy Oberting said, Dartmouth didn’t play with a lot of presence that afternoon. Harvard, on the other side, was firing on all cylinders in only its second game of the season.
— Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting, on the Big Green-Crimson matchup.
“We certainly need to prove something after the last time we played and lost 9-2,” Oberting said. “We know it’ll be a better game. Certainly we know we’re capable of beating them.”
Bright hockey fans certainly hope so. Harvard hasn’t played a home game yet this season that was decided by fewer than four goals. Dartmouth is only the second nationally-ranked team to visit so far, and it’s the Crimson’s first home game in over a month.
Harvard’s hoping for a big boost in attendance on Friday. The team has garnered plenty of media attention since its last home game — a segment on the NESN Bruins’ pregame show; guest appearances by captains Jennifer Botterill, Jamie Hagerman, and coach Katey Stone on the NESN Sports Late Night Show; and a column by the Boston Globe‘s Bob Ryan suggesting that the Harvard-Dartmouth game will be “The Best Show in Town.”
“It’s great entertainment,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “You get away from the sort of clutch-and-grab, bang-around hockey. It’s fast-paced. It’s a great matchup. We’re really looking forward to it. Hopefully we’ll get some people in the seats and it’ll be a real exciting atmosphere.”
Harvard-Dartmouth has drawn well in the past. The game between the two squads two years ago at the Bright Center attracted 1,000 fans, the best total since Harvard’s 1999 national championship season. The first matchup this season had a reported attendance over 1,000 as well. The 2000 ECAC semifinal between the two schools drew 2,417 fans — more than that year’s ECAC championship. When the two teams met in the championship the next year, the game attracted the league record crowd of 2,592.
Harvard-Dartmouth has grown into one of the ECAC’s best rivalries in the past five years, though Dartmouth has owned the series as of late, winning eight of the last 11 meetings.
Dartmouth’s the underdog this time around, but that’s nothing new for Oberting and the seniors on the roster.
“Going into this game as an underdog isn’t a bad thing,” Oberting said. “I think historically we’ve thrived in that position and the team will be excited to play. They know they have nothing to lose.”
Case in point is the 1999-2000 season, when Harvard was the defending national champion. Three times the Crimson played Dartmouth as the favorite and three times the Big Green came out on top. At season’s end, it was Dartmouth who earned the last spot to the four-team national tournament in lieu of Harvard.
Dartmouth now enters the game as healthy as it will be for the rest of the season. Cheryl Muranko returned from her torn meniscus last weekend. She came back in style, scoring Dartmouth’s third goal in a 4-0 win over Princeton.
“She did a great job,” Oberting said. “She just has a lot of energy. She’s a hard-nosed player who goes hard and is tough and fires the puck. It’s definitely been a shot in the arm to have her back.”
Dartmouth’s chances were also boosted when Louise Pietrangelo chose not to play for the Canadian national Under-22 team in Germany this week.
The Big Green won’t see any action from Meagan Walton for the rest of the season, but Dartmouth is one of the few teams with enough depth to handle the loss of an elite player.
“[Dartmouth] certainly had some very unfortunate injuries and that’s tough, but they’ve persevered through those injuries,” Stone said. “Similar to us as the season goes on they’ve gelled together. They’ve taken their lumps a little bit but they’re probably better for them.”
Oberting feels Dartmouth has shored up its penalty kill. The Big Green gave up three power-play goals in the 9-2 loss to Harvard and a 6-3 win over Minnesota earlier in the year. This weekend was a different story. Dartmouth shut down Princeton’s power play six times. The Tigers’ power play had ranked second in the nation entering the weekend.
“We realized that was a point of weakness and we worked hard on it, so we were happy to see it improve over the weekend,” Oberting said.
Yet Oberting knows its crucial for Dartmouth to stay out of the box to win on Friday. The Big Green averages over 14 penalty minutes per game — second-most in the nation. Harvard’s power play is converting at a nation-best rate of 35 percent.
“We know what we’re up against,” Oberting said. “We’ll have to be at our best, as will they have to be to beat us. I think it’ll be a very competitive game. It should be fun to watch.”
Dartmouth has no room for a letdown after playing Harvard. The Big Green will be right back at Brown at 4 p.m. the next day, and there’s no doubt Brown will have an easier time against Vermont the previous night than Dartmouth will against the Crimson. Brown-Dartmouth has been one of college hockey’s best historical rivalries with the Big Green holding a 25-24-6 edge in the all-time series.
Two milestones of note: Amy Ferguson leapfrogged into the top spot in the all-time Dartmouth goaltender win list after beating Yale and Princeton last weekend, and Harvard captain Jennifer Botterill is one assist shy of tying Tammy Shewchuk’s school record of 155. Of course, Botterill provided the finishing touch on a fair number of those assists, especially in 2000-01, when Shewchuk led the nation in the category.