Harvard simply could not go a single game last week without some kind of celebration, as Jennifer Botterill broke the school scoring record on Friday, senior day was set for Saturday, and the ECAC and Ivy titles were awarded on Tuesday.
When all was said and done, the team was eager to get off the ice on Tuesday night. There was little revelry among the Harvard players when Phil Buttafuoco surprised the team with the league regular season trophy. They were saving it all for March.
“I say congrats, but we’re playing for something a lot bigger,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone.
— Harvard coach Katey Stone, on the Crimson’s regular-season title
Stone, naturally, is referring to the national championship. As well as Harvard has played through its 22-game unbeaten streak, the games in March will go in the record books. An ever-improving Dartmouth team appears to be looming in Harvard’s future in perhaps both the ECAC championship and the Frozen Four. The Crimson may well have to beat the Big Green four times to achieve all its goals.
“We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again,” said Stone in response to the challenge of beating the same team four times.
The first “we” refers to the 1999 Harvard team, whose success was far from the norm. In the five-year history of national championships in women’s hockey, only the 1999 Harvard team succeeded in winning its conference regular season, conference postseason and national championship titles. And in the three years prior to 1998 when the ECAC title was effectively the national championship, not one team won the league regular season and postseason crowns.
One advantage Harvard has this year, however — its players have stayed healthy, for the most part, and the full team has been there almost all season. Consider the teams that have come close to winning all three titles and failed over the past three years. In 2000, Brown faced the unique challenge of losing Tara Mounsey for the season, yet still managed to win the ECAC regular season and postseason titles, but fell short to Minnesota in the national final. Minnesota-Duluth’s potential for regular season and postseason championships in 2001 and 2002 was greatly limited by its revolving-door roster due to national team commitments.
When Harvard did pull off the feat in 1999, it had to beat New Hampshire four times. Harvard swept by 3-2 and 4-2 margins in the regular season, but needed overtime to beat the Wildcats in both the ECAC final and national championship. Even with a 29-game win streak entering the final game, its season still hung in the balance until a goal from Botterill finally clinched the title.
Dartmouth appears more than capable of giving Harvard a challenge if they do meet again. The Big Green defense, starting from Amy Ferguson in net, hasn’t let much of anything pass through since January. Botterill, for one, doesn’t mind having to play the prospect of playing the same team four times.
“I think that it’s great, because you get to know them a little bit, and then it makes the rivalry more intense,” she said. “The more you play them, the stronger you feel about it. You want to bring their best performance you want to beat them.”
For the Record
The Bright Hockey Center took a moment to pause when Botterill broke former linemate Tammy Shewchuk’s all-time Harvard scoring record with her 308th career point against Princeton last Friday. A banner with “308” in big letters emanated from the press box and Botterill rose her stick to acknowledge the fans at center ice prior to the faceoff. There was no acknowledgement after she surpassed Gretchen Ulion’s college hockey mark of 312 on Tuesday. Stone wasn’t one to have another celebration for an individual achievement.
“It was great to have it over with,” Stone said of Botterill’s surpassing of Shewchuk’s mark. “I’m sure she is relieved. It’s not what she plays for, but it’s certainly something she has accomplished over the last four seasons.”
Botterill was her usual unassuming self.
“I mean it’s really nice and appreciate all the support and everything, for us it’s been about the team this year, honestly,” Botterill said.
All the Possibilities
As the ECAC hits the final weekend of its regular season, the playoff seedings are almost set.
Harvard clinched the regular season title with a win over Brown on Tuesday. Dartmouth has the No. 2 seed wrapped up. Princeton can take the No. 3 seed by beating Dartmouth and Vermont this weekend, otherwise the Tigers get the No. 4 spot and St. Lawrence stays at No. 3. Brown is stuck at No. 5 barring a total collapse by Princeton this weekend. Yale could move into the No. 6 spot with a win over Vermont. If that happens, Colgate will be stuck at No. 7 and Cornell will be at No. 8 unless either can gain some points against Harvard or Brown.