Season Recap: Return to NCAA Tournament, Coaching Milestone Highlight Women’s Hockey Season

Season Recap: Return to NCAA Tournament, Coaching Milestone Highlight  Women’s Hockey Season

Photo courtesy: Gil Talbot

The Harvard women’s hockey team earned the program’s ninth 20-win season, as the Crimson returned to the NCAA postseason for the eighth time and claimed its 13th Beanpot title.  Harvard finished the season 20-8-5 overall, going 13-6-3 in ECAC Hockey and 6-2-2 in the Ivy League. 

In addition, Katey Stone, the Landry Family Head Coach for Harvard Women’s Hockey, added another accolade to her career, as she became the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history.  Through her 16 seasons with the Crimson program, Stone has compiled an impressive 339-144-27 (.691) overall mark. 

After opening with a 2-3 record in its first five games, the Crimson began an eight-game unbeaten streak by topping Quinnipiac, 7-2, in a home contest Nov. 15.  Harvard then earned a 1-1 tie against No. 4 New Hampshire Nov. 18, before picking up three straight wins against Ivy League and ECAC Hockey rivals Yale, Brown and Dartmouth Nov. 20-25.  In a key two-game home series against No. 2 Minnesota, Harvard, ranked ninth at the time, earned a 1-0 win against the Golden Gophers Dec. 4, as Liza Ryabkina netted the game’s only goal.  Christina Kessler recorded 24 saves to earn the shutout.  On the following evening, Kessler stopped all 29 shots she faced, as the Crimson and Golden Gophers skated to a 0-0 tie. 

On Dec. 8, Kessler tied Ali Boe ’06 for the most career victories for a Harvard goaltender with 63, as she helped the sixth-ranked Crimson knock off Connecticut, 2-1.  After the holiday break and a trip to the MLP Cup in January, in which she helped Canada win the gold medal, Kessler became Harvard’s all-time wins leader, as she made 21 stops in a 5-1 victory over Colgate at Bright Hockey Center Jan. 16.  Kessler, whose season was cut short by an injury later in January, added to her list of accomplishments, as she finished her career as the NCAA all-time leader in save percentage (.9414). 

Harvard entered the 32nd Annual Women’s Beanpot riding a two-game win streak, and the Crimson was eager to continue to play well, as the team hosted the tournament at Bright Hockey Center.  In the opening round, Ryabkina had a career day, as she netted four goals, including two on the power play and three in the third period alone, as Harvard cruised to a 5-0 win.  Following wins against Brown and Yale Feb. 5-6, No. 5 Harvard faced No. 9 Northeastern in the Beanpot final.  Ryabkina, who took home Beanpot MVP honors, notched a goal early in the second period, and it held up as the game-winning tally, as Harvard held on for a 1-0 win.  Laura Bellamy, who took over as the starting goaltender in late January, was honored with the Bertagna Award, presented to the Beanpot’s top goaltender, after recording a pair of shutouts in the tournament.  Bellamy enjoyed a strong rookie season, as she posted a 10-5-2 overall record with three shutouts and a 1.68 goals-against average.

The Crimson completed the regular season with a 2-1 win at St. Lawrence Feb. 19 and a 3-3 tie at Clarkson Feb. 20, enabling Harvard to earn the third seed and home ice in the first round of the ECAC Hockey tournament.  Randi Griffin, a finalist for the ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year Award, scored on a penalty shot in the victory against the Saints and had the first hat trick of her career in the contest against the Golden Knights.

Harvard hosted Princeton in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals Feb. 26-27, and the Crimson was looking to improve on a 0-1-1 record against the Tigers during the regular season.  Harvard jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period in Game 1, as the Crimson outshot the Tigers 18-6 in the opening frame and 38-17 overall in a 5-1 victory.  After the win, Stone was honored by her players and fans as the NCAA career leader in victories, as she surpassed former Minnesota and Colby head coach Laura Halldorson.

In Game 2, Kate Buesser, Kaitlin Spurling and Ryabkina each found the back of the net, enabling the Crimson to take a 3-0 lead after two period.  Jillian Dempsey added another goal in the third period, as Harvard clinched a two-game sweep with a 4-1 win.

In the ECAC Hockey semifinals, the fourth-ranked Crimson traveled to Potsdam, N.Y., to face No. 6 Clarkson March 5. After falling behind, 1-0, in the first period, Buesser and Ryabkina notched goals in the second to give Harvard a 2-1 lead.  The Crimson’s advantage was short-lived as Clarkson knotted the game with a score with 2:24 remaining in the second.  Clarkson scored again late in the third to hold off Harvard, 3-2. 

Harvard, which boasted a 5-0-2 non-conference record during the regular season, earned the No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, as the Crimson reached the national postseason for the eighth time in the 10-year history of the event.  Harvard hosted Cornell, the ECAC Hockey tournament champion, in the NCAA quarterfinals March 12.  Griffin and Leanna Coskren found the back of the net for the Crimson, but the Big Red advanced to the Frozen Four with a 6-2 win.

Buesser was honored on the All-ECAC Hockey and All-Ivy League first team after pacing the Crimson with career-highs in points (40), goals (16) and assists (24).  She was also named to the ECAC Hockey All-Star Team and ranked second in the conference with 32 points (12-20-32) in ECAC Hockey action. 

Coskren joined Buesser on the All-ECAC Hockey team, as she garnered a spot on the third team as a defender.  Coskren amassed a career-best 19 points, scoring eight goals and handing out 11 assists.  An All-Ivy League second team selection, Coskren helped the Crimson rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense. 

Dempsey was tabbed to the All-ECAC Hockey Rookie team, as she stood second on the Crimson with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points.  She was 10th in the nation among freshmen with 0.82 points per game and was honored on the All-Ivy League second team.

Cori Bassett earned All-Ivy League honorable mention after accumulating 19 points from the blue line.  Bassett handed out 15 assists and scored four goals, while helping Harvard stand fifth in scoring defense. 

Kessler rounded out Harvard’s all-league selections, as she also grabbed a spot on the All-Ivy League honorable mention team.  Despite playing only 15 games, Kessler posted a 9-3-3 record with a 1.39 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage, as she ranked fifth in the country in both categories.