No. 1 Harvard too much for Bulldogs on ice

One point is better than none — but it wasn’t enough to keep the women’s ice hockey team from slipping a notch in the ECAC standings this weekend.

The Bulldogs (9-9-5, 6-7-3 ECAC) battled their way to a 3-3 tie against conference rival Dartmouth (12-7-4, 9-5-2) Friday night, taking a single point away from the encounter. But they could not manage the same Saturday night, when they took to the ice in Cambridge to face No. 1 Harvard (19-1, 16-0), suffering a tough 3-0 defeat after a near-flawless Cantab performance.

The early minutes of Friday’s match passed scorelessly on both sides. A five-on-three power play in the Bulldogs’ favor proved fruitless, thanks to an impressive string of saves by Dartmouth goaltender Carli Clemis. And soon after, with the Big Green back at full strength, netminder Jackee Snikeris ’11 inadvertently fed the puck to Dartmouth forward Sarah Parsons. Parsons didn’t miss a beat, skating past Snikeris, burying the puck in the net at 9:03 and snapping Snikeris’ scoreless streak of 130:21.

But the Big Green did not stop there. Just 54 seconds after getting on the board, Dartmouth put away another goal when defender Amy Cobb fired a shot from the point. The Bulldogs did not leave the ice scoreless, though. At 15:53, forward Mandi Schwartz ’10 finally beat out Clemis, assisted by forward/defender Maggie Westfal ’09 and forward Crysti Howser ’09, making it 2-1 after the first stanza.

Halfway through the second, things began to get tough for the Elis. A power-play goal at 8:43 left them trailing by two, and they could not manage to close or even narrow the gap during the second period. But 5:22 into the third, Howser snagged a pass from defender Samantha MacLean ’11 and fired it into the goal.

Only 25 seconds later, Westfal put away a goal of her own, assisted by Howser and defender Alyssa Clarke ’10, knotting the score at three. Neither team managed to score again during regulation, and the five minutes of overtime passed with only three Dartmouth shots on goal, all of which Snikeris stopped, and no Bulldog attempts.

“We definitely went into [the third] period thinking we could come back, and we did,” Yale head coach Hilary Witt said. “We got pucks to the net, and everybody stepped up and did little things to make it happen.”

The Bulldogs’ next opponent, first in the nation and undefeated in the league, would prove a tougher challenge.

Harvard came out strong from the moment the puck hit the ice. It took only 58 seconds for Crimson forward Liza Ryabkina to fire a shot that crossed the goal line before netminder Shivon Zilis ’08 could get her glove on it. Harvard latched onto that offensive momentum, outshooting the Bulldogs, 15-5, in the first stanza. At 5:45 in the second, Cantab forward Sarah Wilson fired one in from the left on a five-on-three power play, putting Harvard ahead by two.

The Crimson cemented their victory at about the 10-minute mark of the second with a short-handed goal, courtesy of forward Sarah Vaillancourt. Although the Bulldogs managed a respectable eight shots on goal in both the second and third periods, they simply could not solve Cantab goalie Christina Kessler, and the final buzzer sounded with the Elis trailing, 3-0. It was Kessler’s ninth shutout of the season.

“Penalties definitely hurt us — but indirectly,” forward/defender Kristen Stupay ’09 explained. “A little more discipline in our defensive zone could also have done us good — a strong team like Harvard capitalizes on small defensive mistakes, and there were a few parts of our game in the d-zone that weren’t quite on point.”

With just one point for the weekend, the Elis slip to seventh in the ECAC rankings with 15 points, tied with Cornell (10-11-1, 7-8-1). They are a mere two points away from their former sixth-place slot, currently held by Colgate (10-12-4, 7-6-3) — but they are also just two points away from ninth, where Rensselaer (12-11-4, 5-8-3) currently resides and where a final finish would deny thme a trip to the playoffs.

“Overall, the weekend highlighted a lot of things we need to work on, but at times we played some good hockey against two of the best teams in the conference,” Howser said. “Right now, a handful of teams are all within a few points of each other in the conference standings, so next weekend’s games are more important than ever.”

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