Women's hockey earns sweep on weekend

What was practically unthinkable a year ago has become a reality for the women’s hockey team, as this past weekend the squad completed its first ever complete season sweep of No. 5 Harvard University and Dartmouth College, two teams that RPI earned its first regular season program wins earlier this season. With Friday’s thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the Crimson, and Saturday’s 5-2 thrashing of the Big Green, Rensselaer now sits with a 14-11-6 overall record and 11-5-4 in the ECAC, while Harvard dropped to 16-6-4 overall and 11-6-2 in the league. Dartmouth, last year’s ECAC champion, currently rests in the bottom half of the standings with a 11-13-2 overall record and 8-11-1 in conference play. Earlier this year, the Engineers topped Harvard 4-2 and Dartmouth 2-1, both on the road.

Friday’s matchup against the Harvard Crimson looked bleak for the Engineers as RPI trailed 2-0 midway through the third period of play. The visiting squad opened up scoring just 16:45 into the opening period on the power play, as junior Katie Buesser redirected a shot from blueline senior Katheryn Farni for the 1-0 advantage. The Crimson ramped that lead to two barely two minutes into the third frame, as junior Ashley Wheeler carried the puck into RPI’s zone and ripped a pass to freshman Kaitlin Spurling for the one-timer, her eighth goal of the season.

Rensselaer finally got on the board and began a three-goal run off sophomore defenseman Amanda Castignetti’s first goal of the season at 11:19. Stationed at the right point, Castignetti’s shot sailed through traffic and right past Harvard’s freshman goaltender Laura Bellamy to cut the lead in half, 2-1. Senior Allysen Weidner and junior Kendra Dunlop picked up assists on the play.

With mere seconds left on the boards, and a loss imminent, Rensselaer stepped up its game to knot the match up at two, sending the contest into an extra frame. Senior Allison Wright, with 35 seconds remaining in regulation, intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and skated in on Bellamy before ripping a wrist shot into the upper-right corner for her 10th mark of the year.

Wright was not done scoring, as she netted the game-winner just 19 seconds into overtime to give the Engineers a hard-earned victory. Sophomore Alisa Harrison won the faceoff back to freshman Taylor Horton, who found Wright open just outside of Harvard’s crease. Wright was able to backhand a shot under the crossbar to seal the win.

In net for Rensselaer, junior Sonja van der Bliek stopped 28 shots on the night—including 15 in the third period alone—for the win. Bellamy, at the other end of the rink, blocked 30 of RPI’s 33 attempts.

Hot off a win over one of the best teams in the nation, nothing could stop the Engineers as they sought out revenge against the Big Green, the team that sent them home packing in the final round of the ECAC championship last March. Senior Whitney Naslund became the first RPI women’s hockey player to earn 100 career points at the Division-I level in the 5-2 victory, and the second Engineer to complete this feat this season.

Dartmouth opened the scoring for the game early into the opening frame, but it would be the only lead the Big Green would hold all night. Senior Jenna Cunningham grabbed a pass at the Dartmouth blueline and sent junior Amanda Trunzo on a one-on-one breakaway against van der Bliek at 2:04 of the first. Trunzo made a quick move, popping the puck past van der Bliek for her 17th goal of the year.

Rensselaer came back to tie up the game at just one minutes into the second period. Sophomore Katie Daniels and freshman Clare Padmore each had several opportunities on net, but were all denied by senior goaltender Mariel Lacina. However, freshman Audrey Stapleton was able to bury her second goal of the year to pull RPI even, 1-1 at 2:08. Just over 10 minutes later at 13:15, Rensselaer pulled ahead 2-1 off Dunlop’s eight of the season. Naslund fought to pull the puck out of the corner, and found an open Dunlop sitting in front of Dartmouth’s net, who was then able to bury the shot for the go-ahead goal. Naslund’s assist marked the 54th of her career, and was her 100th career point.

The Engineers ramped the lead up to two off a goal in the third period at 8:15. Naslund, earning her second of three points on the day, and first of two goals in the afternoon, netted her 13th tally of the season with assists going to classmates Laura Gersten and Weidner.

Dartmouth pulled within one off senior Sarah Parsons’ 18th goal of the year, but it wasn’t enough to stop a strong Engineers squad, who added two more goals in the final minute of play to pad the victory, 5-2. In an attempt to find the equalizer, the Big Green pulled Lacina in favor of the extra skater, but had their plan backfire as both Harrison and Naslund buried empty-net goals for the win.

Following the game, seniors Naslund, Wright, Weidner, Gersten, and Rossli Chace, who had her season ended short by injury, were all recognized for their dedication to the women’s hockey program over their four years of play at Rensselaer. The Engineers, who are currently third in the ECAC, finish up their regular season with two games on the road. Friday, RPI takes on No. 10 Cornell University at 7 pm, followed by a 4 pm match against Colgate University on Saturday. With a pair of wins this weekend, RPI can secure home-field advantage for the first round of the ECAC playoffs, another first for the women’s hockey program.