No. 9 Harvard Looks for Return to NCAA Postseason in 2009-10

No. 9 Harvard Looks for Return to NCAA Postseason in 2009-10

After winning the last two ECAC Hockey regular-season and Ivy League titles, the ninth-ranked Harvard women’s hockey team seeks to improve on the national stage and return to the NCAA tournament in 2009-10.

The Crimson, which finished 19-10-3 overall last season, returns 13 players from that team, including All-America goaltender Christina Kessler, who was tabbed to the ECAC Hockey preseason all-conference team last month. Harvard, picked second in the ECAC Hockey preseason coaches’ poll, will be captained by senior defensemen Cori Bassett and Kathryn Farni. Katey Stone, the Landry Family Head Coach for Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey, enters her 16th season behind the bench. Stone has amassed 319 victories over her career, placing her second all-time in wins among Division I head coaches, as she trails former Colby and Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson by 18 wins for the most ever.

Kessler enters her senior season tied for the NCAA lead in career save percentage, as she boasts a .941 mark over her career. She has earned 55 victories, placing her eight behind Ali Boe ’06 for the Harvard career wins record. Last winter, Kessler earned All-Ivy League first team and All-ECAC Hockey second team accolades after posting a 17-8-2 overall record. She owned a 1.59 goals-against average, placing her third in the nation and stood seventh with a .933 save percentage. Kessler also recorded six shutouts, giving her 21 blank sheets for her career.

“We are very lucky to have one of the best goaltenders in the country, as well as a strong defensive corps,” Stone said. “We need to play great defense and work our way up the ice.”

Freshman Laura Bellamy, a native of Duluth, Minn., will also see action between the pipes this season.

Harvard’s deepest position is defense. The Crimson boasts a roster of seven defenders, including four returning players. Bassett led the group offensively last season with six goals and eight assists for 14 points and was also a force on the power play, netting four tallies. Along with Farni, who tallied five goals from the blue line last year, the two players combined for 59 games played in 2008-09.

Juniors Leanna Coskren and Ashley Wheeler provide veteran leadership and productivity, as Coskren had a goal and three assists in 30 games played a year ago, while Wheeler earned an assist in 12 games.

Newcomers Josephine Pucci (Pearl River, N.Y.), Kelsey Romatoski (Woodbury, Minn.) and Hilary Hayssen (Orono, Minn.) will also earn significant ice time in their rookie campaigns with the Crimson.

Junior Katharine Chute is Harvard’s leading returning scorer, as she accumulated 18 points on five goals and 13 assists as a sophomore last season. Classmates Liza Ryabkina, who scored nine goals and handed out six assists, and Kate Buesser, who found the back of the net six times, are also scoring threats.

Seniors Randi Griffin (three goals, three assists) and Anna McDonald (two goals, nine assists), as well as junior Deborah Conway (two assists) and freshman Alisa Baumgartner (one goal) provide experience and energy up front, giving Harvard scoring depth.

Harvard also welcomes three freshman forwards, including Jillian Dempsey (Winthrop, Mass.), Kaitlin Spurling (Byfield, Mass.) and Margaret Chute (Wayzata, Minn.), sister of Katharine.

Harvard will play 29 regular-season games, including 18 at Bright Hockey Center, this season. The Crimson will skate in 22 ECAC Hockey contests and five non-conference games against Hockey East and WCHA opponents and will host the 32nd Women’s Beanpot Feb. 2 and 9. Harvard faces five teams that qualified for the 2009 NCAA tournament, and as many as six teams currently ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine preseason poll.

“We always attempt to obtain the toughest schedule we can play,” Stone said. “Every year we play in one of the toughest leagues in the country, especially this season. The amount of home games wasn’t by design, but hopefully we can take advantage and play well on home ice.”