Women's Beanpot

Ryabkina a singular sensation for Harvard

Harvard captains Kathryn Farni (left) and Cori Bassett get one of the first twirls with the Beanpot after the Crimson beat NU. Harvard captains Kathryn Farni (left) and Cori Bassett get one of the first twirls with the Beanpot after the Crimson beat NU. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / February 10, 2010

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Liza Ryabkina can do things the other players can’t.

The Harvard junior forward from Ukraine grew up playing on the Druzhba ’78 under-18 team, a traveling all-star squad. All but two of the players were boys and Ryabkina, the captain, was as fast and as sharp on her skates as any of her teammates.

But she has mastered the women’s game as well. Last night, she scored her fifth goal of the Beanpot and the only score of the championship game to give the Crimson a 1-0 victory over Northeastern before a crowd of 1,623 at Harvard’s Bright Center. It was the second victory in three years for Harvard, and its 13th overall.

“She has some pretty special hockey gifts,’’ said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “She can skate like the wind, she has tremendous physical strength, strong hands, she protects the puck very well.

“She shoots as well as any of the top five people in the world. And I’ve seen some of them in this rink in a Harvard jersey before. Her release is that quick. She’s dangerous all over the place.’’

Ryabkina is only third in scoring for Harvard (16-5-4) with 11 goals and 6 assists, after missing two months at the start of the season with a dislocated kneecap. But she’s on a hot scoring streak at a real good time.

“In the past couple games, it felt like I was back,’’ said Ryabkina, who scored four times in Harvard’s 5-0 semifinal victory over Boston College and picked up tournament MVP honors.

Laura Bellamy claimed the Bertagna Award as top goalie in the tournament after earning her second shutout. The freshman from Duluth, Minn., has been Harvard’s No. 1 netminder only since mid-January, when senior stalwart Christina Kessler suffered a season-ending injury.

The Crimson got going from the get-go, firing five shots in the first 10 minutes while NU (16-7-5) had none. A hooking call on Ryabkina at 9:58 allowed the Huskies’ power play to pick up the pace, but only Stephanie Gavronsky’s right point shot challenged Bellamy.

The Crimson pressed in on Northeastern in the second period, sending wave after wave of forwards. NU had difficulty getting the puck out of its zone, its clears around the boards not strong enough to get over the blue line and Harvard challenging every puck on the half wall.

Ryabkina set up her own goal in the first minute, carrying the puck behind the NU goal to the left boards, where she centered a pass to Randi Griffin. NU goalie Leah Sulyma blocked Griffin’s shot but Ryabkina rapped in the rebound at 0:35.

“I practice a lot shooting from that corner,’’ she said, “so I sort of knew where the openings were. It just worked out well I guess.’’

Harvard just kept shooting, firing 26 times to Northeastern’s six. Sulyma was valiant, denying Griffin five times from inside the hash marks in the second period alone. For the game, the Crimson had a 44-27 edge in shots.

The Huskies skated faster and harder in the third, outshooting Harvard, 16-6, but couldn’t score despite two power plays, one a five-on-three.

“The game came down to the last buzzer, which is what you always want your team to do,’’ said NU interim co-head coach Lauren McAuliffe. “We had some shifts in play; sometimes we dominated, the second period was tough on us. We’re proud of the way our team played the third period, we kept our heads in it, we didn’t give up at any point.’’

“That third period was just a grind,’’ said Bellamy. “The team’s played so well defensively it’s made my job easy to try to keep the puck out of the net. Each one of us, we only get [the Beanpot tournament] at home once and it’s just a great feeling to be able to win it here.’’

It was a special Beanpot for Ryabkina: two games, two game-winners.

“It’s pretty amazing,’’ she said. “There’s literally no other word for it.’’

In the consolation game, Boston University peppered sophomore Kiera Kingston with 33 shots while Boston College (5-15-10) fired just 17 in return, but the teams settled for a 1-1 tie after a five-minute overtime. BC senior Allie Thunstrom scored at 17:59 of the first period and BU (11-8-11) got a power-play goal from Kasey Boucher at 12:44 of the third.