Ivy League, ECAC Hockey Regular-Season Titles Highlight 2008-09 Season for Harvard Women’s Hockey

A 12-game winning streak against ECAC Hockey opponents, culminating in the Crimson’s second straight Ivy League and ECAC Hockey regular-season titles, highlighted the 2008-09 season for the Harvard women’s hockey team. Overall, the Crimson posted a 19-10-3 record, including a 16-4-2 mark in ECAC Hockey, and was 8-2-0 in the Ivy League.

In addition to the success of the team, several individuals were recognized for their efforts on and off the ice.

Sarah Vaillancourt, the 2008 recipient of the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to the nation’s top player, was a top 10 finalist for the trophy for the third time in her career and was tabbed a top 3 finalist for the second consecutive season. A co-captain of the Crimson, Vaillancourt, a senior forward, earned her second straight nod as the Ivy League and ECAC Hockey Player of the Year, garnering conference Player of the Week honors three consecutive times to close out the regular season – Feb. 9, Feb. 16 and Feb. 23.

Vaillancourt, who led Harvard with 52 points on 25 goals and 27 assists, was also tabbed to the RBK/AHCA All-America first team, as well as the Ivy League and ECAC Hockey first teams.

Senior forward Kirsten Kester, also a team co-captain, was selected as the ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year, becoming the first Crimson player to earn the award. Kester, a native of Concord, Mass., who is a biology concentrator with a secondary concentration in English, amassed a cumulative 3.81 grade-point average through the fall semester. She appeared in all 32 games this season and collected two points on a goal and assist.

After establishing the NCAA record with 12 shutouts in 2007-08, junior goaltender Christina Kessler was named to the All-Ivy League first team for the second time and received All-ECAC Hockey second-team recognition. She was 8-0-0 in games against Ancient Eight opponents and 17-8-2 overall with a 1.59 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, stopping 599 of 642 shots faced. Kessler recorded six shutouts, giving her 21 in her career at Harvard.

Senior co-captain Jenny Brine was named to the All-Ivy League second team, as well as the All-ECAC Hockey third team. Brine, who hails from Truro, N.S., tallied 11 goals and handed out 12 assists for 23 points in ECAC Hockey contests and was second on the Crimson overall with 31 points. Classmate Sarah Wilson rounded out the Crimson award winners, as she garnered All-Ivy League honorable mention. Wilson, a native of Avon, Conn., collected 12 points against Ivy opponents and finished second on Harvard with 23 points, netting 13 goals and dishing out 10 assists.

The Crimson entered the 2008-09 campaign ranked third in the country in both major polls and opened up with a road trip at Quinnipiac and Princeton. After falling behind 1-0 after two periods against the Bobcats, sophomore forward Kate Buesser netted two goals in the third period, including one with only 1:33 remaining in regulation to lift the Crimson to a 2-1 win. On the following day, sophomore forward Liza Ryabkina tallied the first hat trick of her career, while junior defender Cori Bassett had a career-best four points on two goals and two assists against the Tigers, giving Harvard its first Ivy victory of the year. 6-4. For her effort, Ryabkina was selected as the inaugural ECAC Hockey Player of the Week for 2008-09.

A week later in the team’s home opener at Bright Hockey Center, junior forward Randi Griffin netted a goal and Kessler stopped 21 shots, but Harvard could not hold on to a 1-0 lead late in the third period against Rensselaer, as the Engineers knotted the game with only 18 seconds left. The tie ended Harvard’s 23-game home win streak, which dated back to January 2007. Harvard quickly rebounded and topped Union, 5-0, the next day, led by a two-goal performance by Wilson. Senior Brittany Martin and sophomore Kylie Stephens combined for the shutout, pushing the Crimson’s record to 3-0-1.

Up next, the team traveled to North Country Nov. 14-15 for a two-game set at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Kessler kept the Golden Knights off the scoreboard in the first period, but surrendered a power-play goal in the second and an even-strength score in the third, as Clarkson ended Harvard’s 31-game unbeaten streak against ECAC Hockey opponents, falling by a 2-0 margin. The Crimson, ranked No. 4 in the country, also dropped its game at No. 8 St. Lawrence, 3-1. Bassett provided the only Harvard offense on the day, while Kessler turned aside 20 shots.

With its first two-game losing streak in almost two seasons, Harvard headed back to Cambridge to face Colgate and Cornell Nov. 21-22. After being held to only one assist the previous weekend, Vaillancourt tallied two goals and assisted on three others to help the Crimson skate to a 5-5 tie against the Raiders. Harvard’s defense stepped up the following night against the Big Red, holding its opponent to only one goal. Vaillancourt netted two more goals and handed out two more assists, while Wilson had a game-high five points, scoring twice and picking up three helpers, as the Crimson moved to 4-2-2 overall and in ECAC Hockey action.

No. 9 Harvard then began a five-game span against non-conference opponents, beginning with two at No. 2 Minnesota Nov. 28-29. In the first game, Brine netted a power-play goal in the third, but the Gophers managed a 3-1 win. On the following day, Harvard, wearing its new black uniforms for the first time, scored two goals on special teams, a short-handed tally by Vaillancourt and a power-play score by Kathryn Farni, but Minnesota held on for a 3-2 win.

The Crimson returned east to face No. 7 New Hampshire in Durham. N.H., Dec. 5, looking to end its second two-game slide of the year. Harvard and the Wildcats skated to a 1-1 draw as Kessler stopped 12 UNH shots and Wilson tallied her seventh goal of the season, coming on a power-play chance with Harvard down 1-0 late in the second. Harvard and UNH were scheduled for a rematch at Bright Hockey Center Dec. 12, but inclement weather forced a postponement until Feb. 17.

On Dec. 14, the ninth-ranked Crimson traveled to Storrs, Conn., for a matchup against Connecticut. Harvard held a 2-1 lead in the second after Wilson and Buesser found the back of the net, but the Huskies rallied to score once in the second and again in the third to pick up a 3-2 win. Vaillancourt collected two assists in the game for Harvard, which fell to 4-5-3. With the loss, the Crimson fell out of the national poll for the first time since February 11, 2002, a streak of 145 consecutive weeks.

Up next, the team, in desperate need of a win, visited No. 3 Dartmouth in a mid-week game Dec. 17. Vaillancourt stepped up and gave Harvard a 1-0 lead at 8:12 of the first period, collecting the 200th point of her career on the play. Vaillancourt later assisted on a goal by sophomore Katharine Chute in the second period before Ryabkina netted the game winner early in the third after receiving a pass from freshman Whitney Kennedy. The Crimson held on for a 3-2 win, moving its record to 5-5-3 overall and 2-0 in the Ivy League entering the holiday break.

After suffering a 1-0 loss to Princeton at Bright Jan. 2, the trio of Kester, senior defender Kati Vaughn and Griffin each scored once against Quinnipiac the next day, while Martin stopped 25 pucks for a 3-1 win. Martin followed that performance with a 28-save effort in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Dartmouth Jan. 6.

Harvard needed to find a catalyst to help turn its season around quickly as it entered a road trip to ECAC Hockey and Ivy League rivals Brown and Yale Jan. 9-10. Vaillancourt provided much of the offense against the Bears, scoring three times for her first of three hat tricks on the season, as Harvard took care of Brown, 5-3. Against the Bulldogs, Kessler matched her season high to that point with 32 saves, while Farni supplied all of the offense needed, a shorthanded goal midway through the second period, in Harvard’s 1-0 win.

After returning from its exam break, the Crimson extended its win streak to four games by sweeping Union, 5-1, and Rensselaer, 5-4. Harvard lit the lamp three times in the second against the Dutchwomen, led by Chute’s career-best three-point performance on two goals and one assist, while Brine contributed a goal and three helpers. Brine handed out two more assists against the Engineers, while Vaillancourt tallied two goals and assisted on another, helping Harvard move to 10-7-3 overall and 10-4-2 in ECAC Hockey.

Three days later, the team played its best hockey of the season, defeating Boston University 8-0 in a semifinal of the 31st Women’s Beanpot, hosted by Northeastern at Matthews Arena Feb. 3. Vaillancourt netted three goals and dished out four assists for seven points. Brine also recorded a hat trick and Kessler made 17 saves in goal for her second shutout of the year. Harvard unloaded with two goals in each of the first two periods, before scoring four times in the third. The Crimson also finished the game with four power-play tallies.

Before facing No. 7 Boston College in the Beanpot final, the Crimson welcomed Yale and Brown to Bright Hockey Center Feb. 6-7. In a 2-1 win over Yale, Brine and Bassett each netted goals with an extra attacker. The Crimson won again the next day, shutting down Brown, 4-0, as Vaillancourt scored twice and collected two assists, while Chute also collected two assists. With the victory, Katey Stone, the Landry Family Head Coach for Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey, moved into second on the NCAA all-time Division I win list with 313. This milestone came on a fitting weekend, as Harvard celebrated 30 years of Crimson women’s hockey both days.

In the Beanpot championship, Harvard outshot BC, 40-23, including 19-6 in the first and 12-3 in the third, but the Eagles managed the only goal of the game on a short-handed opportunity to grab the Beanpot title. Kessler finished with 22 save in net, as BC snapped Harvard’s seven-game win streak, its longest of the season.

With a 12-4-2 record in ECAC Hockey games and with four contests remaining, Harvard needed to grab all eight of the remaining points to stay in the hunt for the ECAC Hockey regular-season title. The push for the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs began with a visit to Cornell Feb. 13. Vaillancourt tallied a career-high four goals for her third hat trick of the year and the ninth of her career as Harvard topped the Big Red, 5-2, and clinched at least a tie of the Ivy League title. Kessler stopped a career-high 35 shots against the Big Red, including 15 in the final 20 minutes.

On the next day, Wilson scored with 3:05 remaining to propel the Crimson to a 2-1 victory at Colgate on Valentine’s Day. Harvard’s win, combined with a tie by Dartmouth, gave Harvard the outright Ivy title, its eighth in program history and second in two years.

On Feb. 17, the Crimson, back in the poll at No. 9, met No. 5 New Hampshire in the make-up game for the postponed contest from December. Harvard trailed 2-0 in the second, but stormed back to tie the game on goals by Vaillancourt and Farni. The game moved to overtime when UNH capitalized on a Harvard penalty and managed a power-play goal to send the Wildcats to a sudden victory.

Up next, Harvard welcomed No. 7 St. Lawrence to Bright in the biggest game of the season on Feb. 20. The Crimson stood at 15-9-3 and 14-4-2 in ECAC Hockey, while the Saints were 20-9-3 and 15-4-1, giving St. Lawrence a one-point advantage in the conference standings. Harvard came out flying and struck three times in the first period and never looked back, shutting out the Saints, 4-0, to grab first place with one game remaining in the regular season.

With the ECAC Hockey regular-season title within its grasp, Harvard once again scored three goals in the first and defeated Clarkson, 6-1, the next afternoon, as the Crimson clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs. Vaillancourt and Brine each netted two goals and assisted on another on Senior Day. After the trophy presentation following the win over the Golden Knights, Brine, Kester, Martin, Nora Sluzas, Vaillancourt, Vaughn and Wilson were honored for their dedication and commitment to the Harvard program. The class of 2009 led Harvard to three NCAA tournaments, one Frozen Four, two Ivy League titles, two ECAC Hockey regular-season titles and two ECAC Hockey tournament championships.

The Crimson entered the postseason ranked seventh in the country and looking to continue its hot streak, as the team had won 11 of its last 13 games. Harvard met Cornell in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinal round for the second straight season, and outscored the Big Red, 7-0, in the series to advance to the conference semifinals. In Game 1, Harvard scored all three of its goals in a span of 13 minutes in the first and second periods. Farni opened the scoring at 17:24 of the first before Ryabkina and Brine added insurance goals in the second at 2:36 and 10:44, respectively. Kessler played solid in goal, establishing a new career-best with 36 saves.

Harvard followed suit with a 4-0 decision in Game 2, led by a two-goal performance by Ryabkina. Kessler recorded her second shutout in less than 24 hours by making 26 stops. Vaillancourt handed out three assists, while Anna McDonald and Chute each tallied one goal.

As the highest seed in the 26th annual ECAC Hockey Women’s Championship, the Crimson hosted the semifinal and final rounds at Bright Hockey Center Harvard fell behind Rensselaer, 2-0, in the second period, as the Engineers struck at 13:44 on the power play and then again at 15:29. Only 42 seconds after RPI’s second goal, Wilson kept Harvard’s season alive, after she accepted a pass from McDonald and found the back of the net at 16:11. Midway through the third, Wilson shot a one-timer into the cage to tie the game at 10:42. The Crimson had several chances in the final moments, but chances by Vaillancourt and Brine just missed giving Harvard a 3-2 victory. In the extra session, the Engineers tallied the game winner on a power play at 13:20, as RPI advanced to the ECAC Hockey final. March 7-8.

With the departure of seven seniors, Harvard will look to its youth and depth in the 2009-10 season. The Crimson returns 17 players from this year’s squad and will look to return to the NCAA tournament and retain its hold on the Ivy League and ECAC Hockey titles.