Located at 65 N Harvard St, Bright-Landry Hockey Center is the home arena for Harvard's men's and women's hockey teams.

Dominance on the Ice: The 1999 Women’s Ice Hockey Team's Long Legacy

By Jack Anderson, Crimson Staff Writer
Located at 65 N Harvard St, Bright-Landry Hockey Center is the home arena for Harvard's men's and women's hockey teams. By Joey Huang

In what marks the 25th anniversary of the Harvard women’s ice hockey team’s historic triple-crown season, the team’s national championship run and the grit, perseverance, and dominance the squad displayed throughout that entire season is still spoken about with hushed reverence.

On March 27, 1999, in Minneapolis, Minn., the No. 1 ranked Crimson team took the ice against the No. 2 University of New Hampshire Wildcats in the NCAA women’s ice hockey national championship game. After three periods of back-and-forth battling, the two squads entered overtime with the biggest prize in all of college hockey on the line: the national championship trophy. While most teams would be panicking in this situation, Harvard, with only one loss under its belt throughout the entire 34-game season, knew what it had to do.

The Crimson stayed calm and collected, defeating UNH in a nail-biter that clinched not just the championship, but also the coveted “triple crown” of victories — the Ivy League, the Beanpot, and the National Championship — putting the cherry on top of its historic season.

“Going into that year, Harvard had always been a building program,” AJ Mlezcko, a star forward for the 1999 squad, said in a past interview with the Crimson. “The big three that nobody could touch were UNH, Northeastern, and Providence College.”

The team started the season 3-0, an impressive start for the squad. In its fourth game of the season, it lost to Brown 2-4. This was a loss that it did not expect, and it lit a fire that catalyzed a new level of intensity for its remaining games. After that loss, the team won 30 games straight, including the Beanpot Championship, the Eastern Conference Championship, and the National Championship. The team defeated the UNH Wildcats, the alma mater of Head Coach Katey Stone, in both the Eastern Conference Athletic Conference finals and the American Women’s College Hockey National Championship.

The team’s 33-1 record may suggest that the entire season was easy skating. However, while some games had dominant performances, like a 9-0 win over Boston College in the Beanpot and a 15-0 win against Colby, the season was not a walk in the park.

The team sustained injuries just like any other, including one devastating blow to then-junior goalie Crystal Springer, who broke her collarbone during the regular season. After returning later during the season, disaster struck against Brown during its 5-3 victory in the AWCHA semi-final. Springer broke her collarbone again, forcing rookie goalie Allison Kuusisto to step up between the pipes for the National Championship game against UNH.

The Crimson was resilient though, proving that truly great teams adapt to the challenges that emerge throughout a season. Harvard rallied and came back to lead by two late in the championship game. After two goals from the Wildcats, it was even, and the two teams were headed to overtime in Minneapolis. After eight minutes of overtime, Botterill ended the game, assisted by Mlezcko, giving Harvard its 33rd win and most importantly, the National Championship.

In addition to the Bean Pot, Ivy title, and National Championship, Stone would also take home ECAC Coach of the Year, the New England Hockey Writers’ Coach of the Year, the American Hockey Coaches Association Women’s Coach of the Year, and New England College Athletic Conference Division-I Coach of the Year.

Stone would end her career with 494 victories in 25 seasons as Head Coach for the Crimson. Stone started her tenure as Head Coach in 1994. After three years of sub-.500 performances, the team jumped from 14-16-0 in the 1998 season to 33-1-0 in the famed 1999 campaign. During the 2014 season, Stone became the first woman ever to be named Head Coach of a USA Hockey team in the Olympics, coaching the women’s team to a silver medal in Sochi.

“I think the proudest thing for me — and we just had a celebration of the ’99 team, and many of our players were able to come back — is just how connected they were, and how connected they still are,” Stone said in 2019, looking back. “And I just think that that’s a testament to their character and how much it meant to them.”

What made the victory even sweeter for the Harvard team was that it marked the 25th anniversary of the program’s recognition as a Harvard University squad under Title IX. With the gravitas of this milestone, and the trophy on the line, the Crimson team proved that it was up to the challenge.

“In terms of that intermission [before overtime], going in, I think it was more a matter of ‘We’ve got this,’” Mlezcko said. Mlezcko was no stranger to big situations like this, as a two-time Olympian and 1998 gold medalist. “We knew that we just had to spread them out and use our depth. We had so many good players on that team.”

Alongside this historic performance, Mlezcko was awarded the 1999 Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top-performing women’s player in college hockey. In 2002, Mlezcko was inducted into the New England Women’s Hall of Fame and Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. She later became the first woman to ever commentate for a National Hockey League game and now works as a color commentator for ESPN and ABC, calling games for the New York Islanders.

In the overtime period of the championship game, freshman Jennifer Botterill netted the decider, her eighth game winning goal of the year, putting an exclamation point on the squad’s already dominant season. The score was Mlezcko’s whopping 77th assist of the season.

Botterill’s successes, alongside her team’s, would not be confined to just that one season, and she would go on to win the Kazmaier twice in the next three years, in 2001 and 2003. Additionally, at the time of the national championship game, Botterill had already proved herself on a national stage, having clinched an Olympic silver medal. The standout would go on to win the gold medal in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, and at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, playing forward. She also went on to play three seasons in the National Women’s Hockey League and three in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She now works as a color commentator and studio analyst for TNT.

The 1999 roster has produced some of the Crimson’s most renowned hockey champions, which has established a precedent of excellence for the program.

Tammy Lee Shewchuck also played a pivotal role in the win in Minneapolis. After the season, she would be named a first team All-American. She would also go on to win the Olympic gold medal in 2002 alongside Botterill in Salt Lake City. At the time of her graduation from Harvard, Shewchuck earned herself the title of NCAA all-time leading scorer. After college, Shewchuck took her talents to the coaching scene, leading teams at Lawrenceville and Wesleyan.

“That line [Mlezcko, Botterill, Shewchuk] was one of the best lines in college hockey ever, and there’ve been a couple others since,” Stone reminisced.

“What those kids were able to do together,” Stone added, “was huge. They weren’t all great friends all the time, but they knew that they were the right three to play together.”

A quarter of a century later, the Crimson’s ice hockey stars can still look back and appreciate the legacy of the stars that came before them. As the team continues in a new era under Head Coach Laura Bellamy ’13, the successes of Mlezcko, Botterill, Shewchuk, and Stone offer a blueprint for future success.

—Staff writer Jack Anderson can be reached at jack.anderson@thecrimson.com.

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