Much can be learned from facing a bitter rival

by Kim McCullough | 11/15/01 6:00am

Sitting in the visiting team locker room at Harvard last weekend, I was filled both with feelings of disappointment and relief. I thought, just as I am sure the other four seniors did, 'This could be the last time that I ever play at this rink.'

Each and every game in the home of the Crimson has been a war. The amount of blood, sweat and tears that our team has shed in front of Harvard's obnoxious fans and under the shoddy lighting of Bright Hockey Arena is truly remarkable. Every time our bus pulls away onto the streets of Cambridge, I have thought that it is playing these games that make me love the sport that much more. Now, after pulling away for what could be the final time, I want to thank Harvard women's ice hockey for playing such an integral role in our team's success.

In the past four years, I have seen our team undergo a complete metamorphosis under the dim lights of Harvard's tiny rink. As a freshman, I had little idea that Harvard was such a bitter rival, but I remember watching my teammates fight tooth and nail to keep up with a Harvard team stacked with Olympians. Only one team was able to beat Harvard all season long, and it definitely was not us.

A year later, we beat Harvard on the night the Crimson raised their 1998 National championship banner to the rafters. It is still one of my fondest memories as a college athlete. We celebrated under that banner knowing that the consummate 'underdogs' had finally prevailed.

But I am sure that few of us realized that with that victory, a new era of Dartmouth women's ice hockey had just begun. On that cold November night, in front of a packed arena, our team and our program changed. We believed we could compete with the top teams in the country prior to that game, but after knocking Harvard off its pedestal, we finally had concrete evidence that we were capable of actually becoming the best team in the country.

Our newfound confidence translated into a number of big victories my sophomore year and a trip to the national championship tournament. After that initial win at Harvard, we were no longer surprised by what we could accomplish. We knew that we deserved to have a shot at the national title and we weren't concerned by the fact that almost everyone else thought out team was a fluke.

Last year, we carried our No. 1 national ranking and our hopes of securing the Ivy League title into Bright Hockey Arena 20 games into the season. They were looking for revenge. Not only had we beaten them in their first home game of the previous season, but also we were awarded the fourth and final bid to nationals at their expense. Once again, it was the underdogs that prevailed, as the Crimson handed us our second loss of the season. After the final buzzer sealed their victory, we sat with a feeling of helplessness that I am sure mirrored how they had felt the year prior when we were the ones who scored an upset.

Going into last Saturday's game, Harvard once again assumed the role of the underdog. Player for player, we are the better team. But as anyone who follows sport knows, that by no means seals a victory. After all, they were the stronger squad that night they raised their 1998 national championship banner and our 'no-name' team came away with the upset.

They were the hungrier team this past Saturday, and we were lucky to leave Cambridge with a 3-2 win. In the locker room after the game, our team sat there knowing that our performance may have been good enough for the win, but it wasn't good enough to prove to anyone that we are among the best teams in the nation.

So once again, I would like to thank the Crimson for showing us that no matter what your team looks like on paper, embracing that 'underdog' mentality is what makes you competitive. Although I have learned a tremendous amount in my 99 games wearing the Dartmouth jersey, I gained more from those four games in Cambridge than any other.

Kim McCullough is co-captain of the defending ECAC and Ivy League champion Dartmouth women's hockey team. Throughout the season, she will be offering her unique insight on her team's performance and her final collegiate campaign.