After a month-long pause for winter break, Harvard’s women’s ice hockey team (6-12-3, 5-8-3 ECAC) returned to campus seeking to refocus and breathe new life into a season that has not gone it's way thus far. Although the Crimson’s results in the win column were up-and-down, its performance on the ice was remarkably improved.
“I think our team is pretty focused,” head coach Katey Stone said. “We had boot camp, which we call two-a-days for a couple of days when they came back, and they were locked in. We have played some good hockey and haven’t gotten all the outcomes we wanted, but we are doing a lot of things better than the first semester.”
With no classes in session, the need for the usual Friday and Saturday game schedule is upended during the winter break. For Harvard, this translated to playing six games over the course of 14 days. Thus, finding the perfect balance between recovery and practice is essential to a team’s performance during winter break play.
“It was a lot of games, but at this point in the season, you want to be playing games,” said Stone about the slate of winter break contests.“Kids know what to do. We are just trying to sharpen our tools in practice and get going on game days.”
Following the matchup against Quinnipiac at Frozen Fenway, Harvard kicked off its return from winter break by traveling to Hobey Baker Rink on its 100th anniversary for a matchup against Princeton (9-10-1, 5-9-0). The Crimson’s offense came out firing on all cylinders: Harvard outshot the Tigers 11-10 in the first and 14-10 in the second. Great chances generated by first-year defender Jade Arnone and sophomore defender Mia Biotti almost opened the scoring in the second.
Princeton pushed the Crimson’s strong penalty kill to its breaking point in the third frame. A major penalty against sophomore forward Paige Lester and a minor against sophomore defender Jenna MacDonald set up a five-on-three advantage for the Tigers. While playing with the two-skater advantage, Issy Wunder scored off a redirect to give Princeton the edge. After Wunder’s opening goal, the Tigers got a boost from the 1500 fans packed into the arena. Wunder and Sarah Filler each added another goal to seal the 3-0 win.
Next, Harvard welcomed St. Lawrence (11-15-2, 5-7-2) to the Bright-Landry Hockey Center for a 10:30 am puck drop. The Saints dominated the first period. After outshooting Princeton in the first period last time out, the Crimson was outshot 19-7 in the first. Along with the shot advantage, St. Lawrence led 1-0 after the first period. Aly McLeod scored seven minutes into the game with a shot that rocketed past sophomore goalie Alex Pellicci.
For the second straight contest, Harvard’s penalties led to a goal. In the second, the Saints jumped out to a two-goal lead as Kristina Bahl snuck the puck past Pellicci to capitalize on Arnone’s two-minute interference penalty. Not even a minute later, Biotti responded with a goal to cut the lead in half.
From just inside the blue line, Biotti launched a shot on goal that found its way into the back of the net. In the final minutes of the second, sophomore forward Hannah Chorske knotted the game up at two. After picking the pocket of a St. Lawrence defender, Chorske skated up the ice and beat the goalie with a quick shot. The game remained tied the rest of the way as the Crimson failed to convert on a third-period power play, and neither team was able to gain momentum in the overtime period.
The 800 sixth graders in attendance for the second annual education day hosted by Harvard Athletics spurred the Harvard comeback. The matchup also saw the emergence of sophomore forward Gabi Davidson Adams in the starting lineup. Davidson Adams has experienced an offensive explosion this year as she already has six more points than her last season total.
“She keeps getting better and better,” Stone said. “She makes the right play at the right time, and she is good around the net. We thought it was time for her to get an opportunity there, and I think she is a very good compliment to [senior forward Anne] Bloomer and [senior forward Kristin] Della Rovere.”
After the stalemate, the Crimson traveled to Hanover for a matchup against Dartmouth (6-15-0, 2-12-0). Following a scoreless first period where neither team had double digits shots, both offenses kicked into gear in the second.
The Big Green struck first as Lauren Messier fired a shot into the back of the net as she collided with the post. The fourth time was the charm for the Harvard power play as it converted on Dartmouth’s fourth penalty of the game late in the second. Bloomer tied the game at one by following up on a shot from Della Rovere.
The script of the third period was identical to the second. The Big Green regained the lead on a snipe by Jenna Donohue, and once again, the Crimson tied it up. Lester found the back of the net moments after the Dartmouth goal. For the second straight game, Harvard played an extra frame. However, this time the three-on-three play would go in the Crimson’s favor. Della Rovere took a perfect pass from Davidson Adams and guided it into the goal for the game-winner.
Looking to build upon its win against Dartmouth, Harvard faced Sacred Heart (13-13-1, 10-7-1 NEWHA) in a contest full of firsts. The matchup was the first in history between the two programs. The game was also the christening of the Martire Family Arena.
The Pioneers began scoring four minutes into the match as Delani MacKay beat Pellicci with a quick shot from the slot. Seconds later, Lester extended her goal streak to two games on a wraparound shot from behind the goal. In response to the fast-paced first, both goalies locked in for the second and third frames, combining for 50 saves the rest of the way.
In overtime, Sacred Heart secured the win with a breakaway goal. The game also included another milestone as Della Rovere moved into the NCAA lead for faceoff wins.
The Crimson concluded its winter break play with a homestand against RPI (7-18-1, 3-11-1 ECAC) and Union (11-14-1, 4-10-1). Halfway through the first, the Engineers were the first to light the lamp as Taylor Zahirnyi skated the puck all the way up the ice from her defensive zone before lacing a shot into the net from just inside the blue line. However, after the goal, it was all Harvard. Bloomer got the Crimson on the board late in the first with a shot that was deflected high into the air before bouncing awkwardly past the goaltender. Davidson Adams extended the lead with a score after using several fakes to get past several defenders. Junior forward Shannon Hollands scored an empty netter in the third to ice the game.
In the winter break finale against Union, Harvard scored the opening goal. The score marked Harvard’s first 1-0 lead since its November matchup with UNH. Sophomore forward Ellie Bayard gave the Crimson an early advantage with her third goal of the season. While Harvard dominated the first period, the Dutchwomen roared back in the second. This time the Crimson was on the wrong side of a 3-1 scoreline. Goals by Carmen Merlo and Emily King gave Union a 2-1 lead at the end of the second. Any hopes of a Harvard comeback faded as Riley Walsh scored an empty netter to close out the game.
As the season winds down and each game becomes more meaningful, the Crimson’s offensive focus will be finishing and converting shots into goals. Since returning, Harvard has outshot its opponents three times, matching the number from before the break. Additionally, Harvard is averaging north of 35 shots per game in its post-break contests.
“I think we have gotten some good ones as of late,” said Stone about the Crimson’s shot generation. “It’s just time for us to finish.”
The results over the break kept the Crimson at the middle of the ECAC table and in contention for a round one home playoff series. Harvard’s upcoming weekend series versus Cornell (12-7-2, 9-4-1) and Colgate (20-4-1, 10-3-0) has significant playoff implications. The Crimson currently sit in sixth place, nine points behind Cornell, which sits in 4th — the last seed to be awarded a home playoff series. Harvard will look to continue its high level of play and capitalize on its underdog status.
“We need to take the mentality of being the hunter and not the hunted,” Stone said. “The pressure is on everyone else.”