With eight minutes gone in sudden-death overtime and the 1999 national women’s hockey title at stake, A.J. Mleczko ’97 (’99) passed the puck to freshman wing Jennifer Botterill ’02, who slammed it home to win the championship for Harvard, capping a 33-1 season. “Pure bliss—what a season—it’s something I’ll remember forever,” Botterill exults, adding, “But it could have been anybody who finished it.” Well—yes and no. That year, Botterill did lead the nation in game-winning goals, with eight, and finished third nationally in scoring with 88 points (behind Mleczko’s 114 and 105 for Tammy Shewchuck ’01). Amazingly, Botterill has scored at least one point every time she has put on a Harvard uniform—tallying in 55 contests through her first four games this fall; she is, in short, a nearly unstoppable force on the ice.
“Jennifer is the best skater in the world, with the best skating form of any woman you’ll ever see,” says her Harvard coach, Katey Stone. “She has the most powerful, most beautiful skating stride—very fast, very quick, tremendous balance—she’s poetry in motion on the ice.”
Botterill started by choosing the right parents: mother Doreen was a Canadian speed skater at the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games. Father Cal, a professor of sports psychology, played ice hockey for the Canadian national team and for a Boston Bruins farm squad. (Brother Jason won a U.S. college hockey championship of his own at Michigan, and now skates for a Calgary Flames farm team.) Then we come to Botterill herself, who earned varsity letters in hockey, soccer, basketball, and volleyball at St. John’s Ravenscourt High School in Winnipeg. But gliding over frozen water was something special. “Whenever I stepped onto the ice,” she says, “I knew that skating was what I absolutely loved to do.” Quelle surprise.
In twelfth grade Botterill moved to Calgary, where coaches were looking over the 18-year-old as a candidate for the 2002 Olympics. Instead, she became the youngest member of the Canadian squad that won silver at the 1998 Nagano Games. They lost in the final to the United States, in the first-ever women’s Olympic ice hockey event. The American opponents included Mleczko and defender Angela Ruggiero ’02, who that fall became Botterill’s teammates when she matriculated at Harvard. The North American hockey rivals had played 14 close exhibition and tournament games leading up to the Olympic final. Botterill calls them “two great teams that made each other better by playing so much.”
At the 1999 and 2000 world championships, Botterill again skated for Canada and earned two gold medals to go with her Olympic silver. Shewchuck—who tallied her 129th goal this fall to pass Mleczko as Harvard’s all-time leading goal scorer—also played on those world-champion teams. “Playing at that level brings your game up another notch,” Botterill says. Furthermore, three Harvard teammates—Kiirsten Suurkask ’01, Jamie Hagerman ’03, and Angie Francisco ’01—have played on national under-22 teams (Suurkask for Canada). Francisco and Botterill cocaptain this year’s varsity. “We have quite a few players with some sort of international experience. There’s positive rivalry,” says Botterill, a psychology concentrator.
Last year, the 5-foot, 9-inch Botterill moved from wing to center forward. Her Canadian commitments kept her out of four Harvard games, and she missed two others with a groin pull, but in 23 contests, she tallied 31 goals and 31 assists, including an overtime score against Northeastern that won the Beanpot. She was Ivy League Co-Player of the Year, New England Hockey Writers’ Player of the Year, and a candidate for the Kazmeier Memorial Award, given to the nation’s top woman player.
Besides another national collegiate title—this year, the NCAA takes over the women’s tournament—and Canadian gold at Salt Lake City in 2002, it is hard to imagine many things the 21-year-old Botterill hasn’t already achieved on the ice. Or how she could improve. “Coaches have said I try to be too much of a playmaker—I ought to look more to the net to score,” she says. Point taken—Botterill put in two goals against Princeton and three against Yale this fall. She adds, “I do want to become a more explosive player.” If she does, Bright Hockey Center may need reinforcing beams.