March 3, 2008

Crimson Ends W.Icers' Season With Sweep

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While the Harvard men’s ice hockey team was busy ensuring Cornell would host a first-round ECAC playoff matchup rather than receiving a bye, the nationally-ranked No. 1 Harvard women’s team was busy eliminating Cornell from the first round of the playoffs. After suffering a crushing 3-2 come-from-behind loss Friday night, the Red had its season ended by the Crimson with a 4-2 defeat Saturday evening.
In the series, Harvard enjoyed a shot advantage of 109-51, and such a disparity is usually indicative of a series outcome. This series was no exception.
In game one, of the best-of-three quarterfinals series at Bright Hockey Center, No. 8 seed Cornell (12-17-1, 9-12-1 ECAC Hockey) squandered a 2-1 advantage heading into the final frame, allowing junior forward Jenny Brine to notch two power play goals. Brine netted the game-winner with eight minutes left in regulation, capitalizing on a rebound in front of the net.[img_assist|nid=28463|title=No magic this time|desc=Senior forward Caeleigh Beerworth (26) was tied for third in the league in game-winning goals, but logged only two assists during the series against No. 1 nationally-ranked Harvard.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“It was tough,” said senior co-captain Brittany Forgues. “The whole game was back and forth. I don’t think [Brine’s goal] was necessarily demoralizing. We were all playing pretty well. It’s just that you have a lapse here and there. She got a quick one to make it 2-2, and then Harvard went up 3-2. We played really well, so it wasn’t demoralizing heading into Saturday’s game. I think it was just a little heartbreaking that it ended like that because it had been a pretty even game going back and forth.”
Harvard (29-1-0, 22-0-0) opened the scoring at 8:32 of the first period as Sarah Vaillancourt notched her team-leading 22nd goal on a wrist shot from just inside the left circle.
Cornell responded with a minute and a half remaining in the opening period as freshman forward Hayley Hughes knotted the game at 1-1. Forgues and fellow senior co-captain Caeleigh Beerworth assisted on the goal.
“I struggled a bit throughout the year,” Hughes said. “I was only at two goals and I felt like I could do a lot better. I knew I needed to step it up for the playoffs. I felt like that goal gave us a lot of momentum. Down 1-0, we knew we could come back and I think the goal gave our team a big boost.”
The Red captured the lead with only 57 ticks left on the clock in the second stanza as freshman forward Karlee Overguard recorded her sixth goal of the season.
“We were nervous at the beginning, but I think we shook our nerves pretty early,” Forgues said. “When we went up 2-1, I don’t think we were nervous, but we knew it wasn’t over. Harvard’s a strong team. We were just trying to focus on playing the same that we had been playing all game, sticking to our system and sticking to our jobs. We were doing a great job.”
After Cornell was whistled for holding, Brine registered the first of her two goals in the final period at exactly the one minute mark on the ensuing power play.
The Crimson totaled a 56-22 margin in shots, including a 21-4 advantage in the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore goaltender Jenny Niesluchowski turned aside 53 shots, while sophomore netminder Christina Kessler rejected 20 shots for her 26th victory of the season for Harvard.
On Saturday, Vaillancourt, the Ivy League Player of the Year, recorded the first and final goals of the contest to advance Harvard into the semifinals with a 4-2 victory.
“She’s one of their stronger players and a member of the Canadian national team,” Forgues said. “She’s obviously a threat, but I think on the other side of that I think we played her really well. We played her straight up. Everybody did their job and was aware of her when she was on the ice. She obviously could have done a lot more damage, but I think we did a really good job of containing her.”
Vaillancourt outraced the Cornell defense down the ice and converted a short-handed breakaway goal at 1:09 of the first period as she fooled Niesluchowski on a back-handed shot.
In the second stanza, Caitlin Cahow doubled the Crimson’s advantage with a power play goal at 5:42.
The Red finally answered four minutes later as sophomore forward Liz Zorn scored with a man advantage to cut Harvard’s lead to 2-1. Freshmen forward Rebecca Johnston and freshman defenseman Sam Wauer provided the assists.
However, the Crimson’s offensive attack could not be contained as junior forward Sarah Wilson scored a mere 15 seconds into the final frame.
Although Hughes notched her second goal of the weekend series less than a minute later to once again bring Cornell within a goal, Harvard received an insurance goal from Vaillancourt with under a minute to play in regulation. Vaillancourt recorded her third tally of the first-round playoff series with an empty net goal as the Red elected to pull its goaltender in favor of an extra skater.
“Being down by two goals is a big deficit, but we were able to comeback on my goal one minute later. That helped the momentum and got the energy flowing again. We knew we were in the game and that we could definitely play with Harvard. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that we lost, but we were definitely there and had a chance to win that series. The insurance goal that they got was really disappointing. It’s a one-goal game minus the empty net score. Harvard knew we could play with them. Next year it is going to be a big game when we face them again. I’m really excited for that.”
The Crimson maintained a 53-29 shot advantage over the Red in the final game of the series. Niesluchowski denied 49 shots in between the pipes for Cornell, while the Crimson’s sophomore goaltender Christina Kessler blocked 27 shots.
On the positive side of the ledger, women’s hockey has seen both individual and team success in the 2007-08 season. Johnston was 10th in the ECAC in goals scored and won Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Zorn and Forgues tied for fourth in the conference in short-handed points, and Beerworth tied for third in game-winning goals. It was the first year since 2003-04 that Cornell was able to qualify for postseason play. In addition, the Red was the only squad this year to be able to notch two or more goals on two separate occasions against the nation’s top-rated team, the Harvard Crimson.