Coming off the most exhilarating and emotionally charged victory of the season, the women’s hockey team knows that it is capable of producing theatrical story lines that end in dramatic fashion. Yet, as the team now gears up for its unlikely role in the ECAC playoffs at No. 3 Harvard tonight, the viewer must beg the question: how many more miracles are in store for the Red?
One thing is for sure: the Red does not plan to say farewell to its season just yet.
“Harvard is an outstanding team and we will give them everything they can handle,” said head coach Melody Davidson. “We are going to have to play sound defensively and try to limit their chances.”
Cornell earned its spot in the playoffs by defeating the Vermont Catamounts in a 2-1 overtime thriller at Lynah Rink this past weekend. The Red rallied from a 1-0 deficit early in the game to tie the score, setting up sophomore Vicki Hodgkinson’s extraordinary goal with 13 seconds remaining in the extra period.
Now, however, the focus is not on things past, but rather on things present and future. And standing in the way of the future of the Red’s season is one powerful, Crimson roadblock.
“[Harvard] is one of the best defensive teams in the country,” said Davidson. “We will not give up many scoring chances, so we are going to have to finish when we do get the chances.”
One memory that might be a little more lucid in the minds of the elder Red is the squad’s ignominious, 13-1 loss to Harvard in the first round of last year’s ECAC playoffs. In the 2002 playoffs, Cornell came out on the losing end of another exciting overtime game, a 4-3 loss to St. Lawrence. This year, the squad hopes to erase the memories of past playoff disappointments.
“We had no special preparation for this game,” said Davidson. “We just need a continuation of what we have been doing all season. We have to play our systems, execute them with confidence and stay disciplined.”
Discipline will be crucial for the Red this weekend as it faces one of the most formidable special teams units in the nation. The Crimson is first in the ECAC in the power play, having converted 23.6 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage. Harvard also boasts the top four point-scorers on the power play in Nicole Corriero (20 power play points), Ashley Banfield (17), Lauren McAuliffe (15) and Julie Chu (14). Corriero, a junior, also leads the league in power play goals with 12 on the season.
“Harvard has a deadly power play,” said Davidson. “We can’t give them opportunities to be up a man.”
The Crimson will not be forgiving on the penalty kill either, ranking first in the league with a 92.5 percent killing percentage. Corriero also leads the ECAC with three short-handed goals.
Yet, if a teams’ most valuable penalty killer is its goaltender, then the Red should be in good shape to stay even with the Crimson. Sophomore Flora Vineberg has shined of late, stopping 31 of 32 shots to preserve the win against the Catamounts on Sunday. Vineberg will get the nod in net tonight against Harvard.
“[Vineberg’s] job will be to give us a chance to win,” said Davidson. “That’s all we can ask — it is everyone else’s job to put the puck in the net.”
The Red will be counting on top scorers Jen Munhofen (seven goals, 11 assists) and Pearle Nerenberg (six goals, 10 assists) to contribute offensively and keep pressure on the Crimson defense throughout the game. In addition, Davidson anticipates freshmen Halina Kristalyn (nine goals, seven assists) and Caroline Scott (seven goals, three assists) will play a significant role against the Crimson.
While the freshman will be feeling the college playoff atmosphere for the first time, the Red’s four seniors will be fighting tonight to make sure that it is not their last time.
“I expect the seniors to step their game up as their time as a varsity athlete at Cornell is slowly coming to a close,” said Davidson.
The best-of-three game series begins tonight in Cambridge at 7 p.m. The puck is set to drop tomorrow at 4 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m., if necessary.
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen