This past Tuesday, the #5 Harvard Crimson and #8 Northeastern Huskies squared off at the Bright Hockey Center in Cambridge for the 32nd Annual Women's Beanpot. It was a closely contested game between the two programs with the most Beanpot wins in women's hockey, but ultimately, the Harvard Crimson prevailed to take their second Beanpot in three years and 13th overall title. Below, we have some views from the booth, along with highlights from the postgame press conference.
1. After a fairly even first period, Harvard came out and dominated the second period. After a quick goal from Liza Ryabkina 35 seconds into the period, the Crimson owned the time of possession and the shot total, outshooting Northeastern 26-6 in the second frame. Our guest from WRBB during the second intermission called the ice tilted, and most of the play was down at the far end. Give credit to the Huskies, however, as they made sure the ice stayed tilted toward the far end during the 3rd period, outshooting Harvard 16-6 and generating several great opportunities to equalize. The Huskies, between luck and the hard-work of the Crimson defenders, just couldn't get a bounce to go their way, and they never got on the scoreboard. Special credit goes to the Crimson for their work in the final minute- Northeastern had a tough time getting the extra attacker on the ice because Harvard's forecheck made it difficult for the Huskies to get out of their own zone, never mind into Harvard territory where it would be safe to pull the goaltender.
Audio: Coach Stone on Harvard and Northeastern's Play in the 3rd Period
2. A casual observer to the game might be surprised that the championship game, a goaltender's duel, was a battle of backup goaltenders, but both Northeastern's Leah Sulyma and Harvard's Laura Bellamy proved they could be starters for any program in the country. Sulyma of course, was a starter for the Huskies, but an early season injury saw her yield to Swiss National Team member Florence Schelling, who earned the majority of the starts in net until heading off for the Olympics. Sulyma, however, did not miss a beat, particularly with her second period performance. She made 25 saves in one period, and single-handedly kept her team in the game and set up their attempt in the third for the win. Had it not been for the one bad period by the Huskies versus Boston University in the opening round, we might have had a different Bertagna Award winner.
Which is to take nothing away from the winner of that award, Laura Bellamy, who posted two shutouts in the Beanpot, stopping all of Northeastern's 27 shots to help the Crimson to the Beanpot. Bellamy played phenomenally, including making a key stop on a partial breakaway from the Huskies, among her 16 saves in the third period after not being tested much in the second period. Some might credit Bellamy's success to the Crimson playing even better defense around her than around Christina Kessler, and that might be true- before the Northeastern game, she was averaging about 18 shots faced per game, and even Bellamy credits her team's backchecking efforts. But it would not explain her performance in that third period, where the Crimson defense was bending and seemed on the verge of breaking, had it not been for the stalwart freshmen goaltender. Audio: Laura Bellamy on how she handled a difficult third period after a quiet second period.
3. Liza Ryabkina certainly earned her MVP Award. The junior forward netted five goals in the tournament, including both game winners, and just seemed to be all over the ice, making key plays in all three zones to propel the Crimson to the win. More importantly, however, is that Ryabkina's return to form, after battling an early season knee injury, has really helped her teammates as well. Randi Griffin is playing some of the best hockey we've seen from her, and her talent in the faceoff dot helped Harvard net a couple of goals during the course of the tournament. The third member of that line, Kate Buesser, has been playing well all season, and her style of play gels with Ryabkina and Griffin nicely, making it a very effective and aggressive forechecking line.
Audio: Coach Stone on the different strengths Beanpot MVP Liza Ryabkina brings to the team.
4. During this tournament, I've had a chance to listen to alumnae, current players, and the coaching staff, all talk about how important the Harvard Crimson take the Beanpot. In fact, it also seemed like I was talking to the same people sometimes; I've lost count of the number of times I heard the Beanpot described as a chance to win a tournament in February. It's clear that every member of the Crimson is told, and quickly buys into, how important this trophy is to this program, whether it was Ryabkina talking about the disappointment of losing last year, or Bellamy describing how this were her and the team's only chance to win the Beanpot on home ice, in front of their home fans. The play of this team on the ice certainly highlighted that fact off the ice. Audio: Laura Bellamy discusses the importance of winning the Beanpot at home
5. After two big Beanpot wins helped to expand the Crimson winning streak to six games, this Harvard program has a tough test ahead of them. Tonight's it's a road game at RPI, a team that has had it in for the Crimson, beating them on home ice in the ECAC semifinals last year and again in Cambridge on the other end of this winning streak. Next week, they get to finish up on the road with St. Lawrence, currently a point behind Harvard in the standings, and then with first place Clarkson's Senior Day in Potsdam. These will be big games if the Crimson want home ice to start the ECAC playoffs, and if they want to be at home to start the NCAA's. Still, the Crimson are playing their best hockey as of late, and I don't expect they'll be resting on their Beanpot laurels come this weekend. Audio: Coach Stone discussing that the team had until midnight Tuesday to celebrate the Beanpot Championship before preparation against RPI and Union this weekend.
Still, while it's past Coach Stone's midnight deadline, we here at WHRB congratulate the Women's Hockey Team on their 13th Beanpot, moving them one away from a tie with Northeastern for most Beanpot titles of any program. That's still a year away, however, and there's still plenty of regular season and playoff hockey left in store for this season's team first, and we'll be checking in on it all.
Video and all photos courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications.