As the two women's hockey powerhouses face off in the 32nd Beanpot championship game on Tuesday night at Harvard's Bright Hockey Center, it will be a battle of teacher and student. Harvard alum ('04) and current Northeastern interim co-head coach Lauren McAuliffe will take on her former coach Katey Stone of Harvard in the title game.
Historically, Harvard and Northeastern have combined for 26 of the 31 total Beanpot titles, and each is eager to expand its collection. The last time the two teams squared off in the final was back in 2004 when Harvard prevailed 5-1.
Tuesday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m.
Bright Hockey Center at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Harvard University (15-5-4, 11-5-2 ECAC Hockey, No. 5 nationally)
Northeastern University (16-6-5, 8-5-4-3 Hockey East, No. 9 nationally)
This will be the first meeting of the season between the two squads. The last time out was during the 2008 Beanpot, when Harvard knocked off the Huskies 3-1. NU still holds the all-time Beanpot advantage over the Crimson with a 16-12 record.
The No. 5 Crimson have flexed their Beanpot muscles in recent years, while the No. 9 Huskies are hungry for their first title since 1998. Even though NU still holds the record with 14 Beanpot titles, eight of Harvard's 12 triumphs have come in the last 11 years — and nine of those titles have come under Stone's watch. As one of the game's most esteemed coaches, Stone is ready for the challenge Tuesday night.
"Northeastern is a very good team," she said. "Come game time, we'll need to be ready. While you never know how teams will match up line for line, we'll need to stick to our game and continue playing as we have been."
The Crimson enter Tuesday's tilt on a five-game winning streak. Stone is also excited about the opportunity of competing for the championship on her team's home turf.
"This is a school and program that truly values the Beanpot. Some of the highlights of our program have come in past tournaments," said Stone.
The Huskies are equally excited and confident about their squad's outlook leading into the final. McAuliffe, who collected four straight Beanpot titles during her playing career at Harvard, is excited to take on her former coach.
"Coach Stone is somebody I look up to very much," she said. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for her and the program. Tuesday's game will be a phenomenal experience to compete against her."
Despite her respect for Harvard and her former coach, McAuliffe is confident in her squad's ability to match up with the Crimson and does not plan to alter her game plan in response to Liza Ryabkina's four-goal performance in the first round.
"We plan on sticking with a balanced attack both offensively and defensively," McAuliffe said. "We won't overemphasize any specific Harvard player as they have a few dangerous skaters on the roster. Our team has the depth to run four great lines, and we'll be ready to battle for the title Tuesday night."
Christina Kessler is 9-3-3 with a 1.39 GAA and .944 save percentage. She is currently Harvard's all-time winningest goaltender with 64 career victories and holds an NCAA record for career save percentage.
Laura Bellamy is 6-2-1 with a 1.21 GAA and .939 save percentage. She has earned two shutouts on the season and was named ECAC Goaltender of the Week on Feb. 1.
Leah Sulyma is 5-1-1 with a 1.84 GAA and a .945 save percentage so far on the season. She earned two consecutive shutouts to begin January and set a school record for most saves in a shutout with 52. She has also earned Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors three times this season, including this past week.
Harvard sniper Liza Ryabkina hit for a career-high four goals in last week's first-round Beanpot win over Boston College, three of which came in the third period. She sits third overall in team scoring with 10 goals and six assists, despite missing nine games this season.
Kate Buesser is the leading scorer for the Crimson, having posted a team-high 11 goals with 20 helpers. In her last three games alone, she's racked up one goal and four assists.
Jillian Dempsey sits second on the team in points with 22 so far on the season (nine goals, 13 assists).
Northeastern's dynamic duo of Brittany Esposito and Annie Hogan are the team's biggest offensive threats. Tied for second in overall scoring for the Huskies, they've been a huge part of their team's success this season and have been on a scoring tear to start the New Year. They've combined 11 points in their last five games with five goals and six assists between them.
Juniors Kristi Kehoe and Alyssa Wohlfeiler have been significant Husky contributors as well. They've combined for 42 total points with 21 goals and 21 assists through 27 games.
"Winning a Beanpot championship can make or break the remainder of a team's season. It seems fitting that the winner will carry momentum and hit the rest of their games flying. We'd love to have a win [Tuesday] night carry over into the Hockey East championships."
–Northeastern senior co-captain Annie Hogan
Hungry is an understatement to describe NU's play of late. The young squad is anxious to prove itself and, at times, the players explode through the gates early before tapering off as the game goes on. To win on Tuesday, the Huskies will need to spread their energy throughout the entire game. A balanced effort lasting the entire 60 minutes will be crucial against an experienced Harvard squad.
On the other bench, the Crimson have been sharp on the power play in recent games. In their last three outings, six of the team's 13 goals have come on the man advantage. To score on the Huskies, the Crimson will likely need more of a balanced offensive effort from forwards other than Ryabkina.