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No. 1 Harvard didn’t do anything special to prepare for No. 5 New Hampshire last night. As it turned out, the Crimson didn’t need to.
The Crimson dominated the Wildcats start to finish in a 7-1 thrashing and outshot them 50-3.
“We just couldn’t match the speed they brought on the ice,” said New Hampshire coach Brian McCloskey.
Wildcat goaltender Jen Huggon helped keep the game close early on with 16 first-period saves, but two goals in the last three minutes of the first put the Crimson up 3-0 and made the rout a certainty. Harvard added three more in the second period and another by captain Angela Ruggiero in the third before the Wildcats’ Steph Jones finally found the back of the net.
Harvard coach Katey Stone said it was the best game her team had played all season, start to finish. Unlike the 2-1 overtime victory over Providence last Sunday, Harvard avoided overhandling the puck and made crisp tape-to-tape passes throughout the defensive zone to ignite several odd-man rushes.
Stone said Harvard wasn’t familiar with New Hampshire’s style of play, but with the way it improved its own play, it was no matter.
“The message we send to our kids is it matters what we do,” Stone said. “Clearly they made the decision today that they were going dominate completely.”
The Crimson exploded for three goals in the first period in which Harvard outshot the Wildcats 19-1. Huggon was dynamic.
“[Huggon] made it even more exciting for us — the kids were salivating more and more with some of those saves,” Stone said.
Harvard turned the game into a rout with two goals in the final three minutes of the second period. A one-timer in front from defenseman Ashley Banfield — set up by senior forward Tracy Catlin from behind the net — made the score 2-0, while an uncontested Ruggiero shot from the point that was deflected through Huggon’s five-hole by Catlin made the score 3-0.
“Huggon came up big at times, but she just didn’t get a lot of help back there tonight,” McCloskey said.
Sophomore Kat Sweet started Harvard’s scoring in both first and second periods, by crashing the net at the right time. The first came as Chu sped past the Wildcat defense and slipped the puck underneath Huggon for Sweet at the doorstep. On her second goal, she took advantage of a clear Raimondi shot that was set up by Botterill.
Botterill scored on her own rebound in the crease to make the score 5-0. A Wildcat turnover allowed Hagerman to set up Botterill and Chu with a two-on-none to make the score 6-0 — Botterill providing the pass, and Chu providing the finish.
On the final Harvard goal, Ruggiero broke in on net with 10 minutes left, while
New Hampshire defenseman Randi Hickox slowed her down by taking away one hand. But that’s all Ruggiero needed as she put the puck in the net with her other hand as Wilcox harmlessly fell down into boards.
New Hampshire may have improved considerably McCloskey’s first season, but it certainly didn’t show on the scoreboard Friday night against Harvard.
While the Wildcats have been quick to deflect criticism that its 14-1-1 record is due to a relatively weak strength of schedule thus far, the performance against the Crimson left more questions than answers as to whether the Wildcats are a legitimate Frozen Four contender. New Hampshire has much to prove against Dartmouth on Saturday.
Nevertheless, Stone — a UNH alum herself — saw the improvement in the Wildcats from last year.
“I thought their intensity was there start to finish,” Stone said. “Even in the warmup, you could tell they were a really different team from last year. As an alum, that’s really awesome.”
Harvard plays one more game against Maine on Saturday before breaking for winter. The Crimson has never lost against the Black Bears.
More help will come for Harvard after winter break, as captain Kalen Ingram is getting her cast removed next week. She is expected to be back after break.
“We’ve been doing this without one of our best players, so we’re anxious to have [Ingram] back,” Stone said. “We’ll need her in March.”