When you are checked into a goalpost at full speed, it helps to have your big sister out on the ice.
During an early December game against the University of New Hampshire, Harvard University sophomore center Mary Parker blazed up the right side of the ice at Bright Arena. She had received a great pass from her older sister Elizabeth and was ready to dish it past Wildcats goaltender Ashley Wilkes when she was cross-checked into the goalpost, hitting it head first.
As Mary collected herself, the first teammate by her side was Elizabeth. The senior wing stayed with her until the team trainer checked her out and led her back to the bench. Elizabeth propped Mary’s left side, while the trainer led her by her right.
“It’s sweet watching them interact,” said Harvard interim head coach Maura Crowell. “Elizabeth is the older sister, and you always see her taking care of Mary. When Mary got hurt, of course Elizabeth was the first over there.”
The bond between the sisters with roots in Acton and Milton, Mass., is extremely strong. Just two years apart, they play hockey with an innate knowledge of where each other is on the ice at all times.
“It’s like having twins out there,” Crowell said. “They are very instinctual on the ice, and can find each other out there. Some would worry, ‘Oh, that means they will never take the shot themselves,’ but they are smart about it and take the shots when it works out.”
The sisters honed their skills at home along with their older sister, Julianne, who played hockey for the University of Pennsylvania. “We would practice our stickhandling in the driveway,” Mary said. “Our dogs would try to get the ball, and it was always fun.”
Mary learned much from Elizabeth’s defensive strategy. “In the driveway, she would always be doing toe drags around me,” Mary said. “It definitely helped to make me a better a defender, as well as help me practice stickhandling.”
Elizabeth recalls Mary being difficult to defend, but tried to emulate her sister’s shooting ability early on. “Mary has an unbelievable shot, so she would always show me pointers on how to fix my shooting,” Elizabeth said.
Their close ages meant that they spent a lot of time together on the ice. They played youth and club hockey together until high school, when they took two different routes to Cambridge. Two grades ahead, Elizabeth played for Acton-Boxborough High School and the Middlesex School, while also playing club hockey for the Boston Shamrocks and Assabet Valley. Mary also played for the Assabet Valley club but played her high school hockey for Noble and Greenough. At Nobles, Mary led her team to ISL titles in 2011 and 2012 and the 2012 New England title. Her performances at the Dedham, Mass.-based private school earned her New England Player of the Year and ISL co-MVP awards during her senior campaign.
Elizabeth and Mary might have taken separate routes, but they were determined to meet the same goal: enrollment at Harvard.
“Our parents used to take us to games growing up,” Elizabeth recalled. “We used to be those little kids, cheering on, waiting for the players to come out, just like we have at our games now. We always looked forward to that.”
Their parents recognized the importance of success in the classroom as well. “Our parents always stressed the importance of academics, and had us keeping up our grades,” Mary said. The sisters are both targeting business administration futures.
Elizabeth began her Harvard career in 2010-11, forging a reputation as a solid defensive forward and a setup player. Her hockey IQ made her a solid contributor.
“Elizabeth has pretty good vision,” said Crowell, who coached her in the associate coach role for her first three seasons. “But she can rip a shot, too.”
“What stands out the most to me about Elizabeth is her ability to read the play and then slide the puck through, maybe six inches off ice to get the puck to another player,” Mary said. “She really sees the ice well and uses her speed to set up people.”
Mary jumped into the Crimson lineup last year with a splash, scoring 12 goals and 12 assists. Her consistent effort and ability not to be overwhelmed at the high level of play, especially come tournament time, made her a player to watch.
Her sister knows what makes her a special player. “She’s very strong on the puck, she has a great shot, she is a very strong skater, and most importantly she is a very smart player out there,” Elizabeth said. “She knows where to put the puck and she knows what to do off the puck.”
In early November, Harvard finally harnessed the Parker power. Crowell paired Elizabeth and Mary on the second line, and they debuted as a left wing-center combination during in a 3-2 win at ECAC rival St. Lawrence on Nov. 8. Facing ECAC favorite Clarkson the next day, Mary scored her first goal of the season in the first period. In the second period, Elizabeth and Mary connected for the game-winner, their first goal of the season together.
Through Christmas, Harvard set the pace in ECAC Hockey with a 7-1-1 record (9-1-2 overall).
Halfway through the season, the Parkers have combined officially for two goals, but the playmaking ability between the two has been apparent, even when not visible on the scoresheet. Elizabeth’s vision combined with Mary’s shot selection and effort make the duo a danger every time their line takes the ice.
Elizabeth likes the throwback feel of playing together. “We always played on the same line on teams growing up, so it is great to be playing together again.”
Mary believes the give and take of playing on the same line also makes them better players. “We have always played together and pushed each other growing up, even when we were just playing in the driveway, so being able to play together has been a great experience.”