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BOSTON — With just over two minutes remaining in the first round of the 69th annual Beanpot Hockey Tournament and the goaltender pulled for the extra skater, the Harvard Men’s Ice Hockey team had their chances to tie the game and erase a 4-1 second period deficit.
However, the Crimson were unable to complete the comeback, as Harvard (12-8-2) fell to the Boston University Terriers (15-10-3) by a score of 4-3 on the traditional first Monday night in February in Boston at TD Garden.
“I thought they played an excellent game,” head coach Ted Donato said of the opposing Terriers. “Well coached, put us on our heels. Dug a hole too big to come out of. But a lot of that was due to us being a bit too passive…that has to do with BU’s speed and skill.”
With Harvard entering the storied Boston College-BU-Northeastern-Harvard tournament on a four-game winning streak and BU entering having won eight of their past nine games, both teams rode momentum into the competition’s opening round, as the Terriers looked to advance to their record 55th Beanpot final appearance and the Crimson aimed to reach their 27th championship game.
From the opening puck drop, the game was physical. First-year forward Alex Gaffney was violently upended in the neutral zone less than a minute into the game, while junior defenseman Henry Thrun threw his weight around with several punishing checks. Both teams traded low-percentage chances in the early going, with neither team able to generate any offense from in tight around the net, until BU captain Logan Cockerill found an extra gear and surged around first-year defenseman Jack Bar, driving from his forehand to his backhand and tucking the puck around junior goaltender Mitchell Gibson for the 1-0 lead.
Despite conceding the early lead, senior forward and captain Casey Dornbach provided an immediate answer for Harvard only 35 seconds later. Dornbach and first-year forward Matthew Coronato combined to keep the puck in the offensive zone and wrest control away from the Terriers, and Coronato’s slick pass from the top of the right circle found Dornbach, who roofed a wrist shot from just in front of the hash marks to tie the game at 1-1.
The Crimson picked up some momentum from the tying goal, as the “Jersey Boys” line of Gaffney, junior forward John Farinacci, and sophomore forward Alex Laferriere continued to drive offense, as Farinacci’s pass from the goal line found Gaffney uncovered in front, but Gaffney’s stuff-in attempt was denied by BU goaltender Vinny Duplessis. Harvard was sent to the penalty kill only moments later, as sophomore defenseman John Fusco was called for holding after trying to prevent a Terriers breakaway. Despite facing a Harvard penalty kill that ranks 14th in the NCAA at 85.7%, BU was able to convert quickly on their man-advantage, as forward Jay O’Brien strode down the right wing and ripped a shot through a screen and past Gibson to give the Terriers a 2-1 lead.
BU continued its strong play immediately after the second period puck drop. After withstanding a shot from junior forward Wyllum Deveaux that rang off the crossbar and into the stands, the Terriers headed to the power play after Laferriere committed a frustration-induced penalty when he hooked the BU forward who stole the puck from him moments prior. BU wasted no time capitalizing on the opportunity, as forward Matt Brown ripped a wrist shot from just inside the faceoff circle past Gibson only 10 seconds into the power play.
“[We] could have put more pressure [on O’Brien]...we needed to apply more pressure [on Brown],” Ted Donato said regarding BU’s two power play goals. “Even at 5-on-5 we need to be more aggressive everywhere on the ice.”
Less than two minutes later, the Crimson were given a power play of their own, as Thrun made a gorgeous outside-inside move to cut to the slot, drawing a tripping penalty on BU’s Luke Tuch in the process. However, despite rolling out a power play unit that leads the ECAC in conversion rate at 21.3%, Harvard was stymied by the Terriers’ penalty kill unit. The Crimson was unable to generate consistent stretches of offensive zone pressure during the man-advantage, and the defensemen had a difficult time corralling pucks sent back to the point, leading to several short stretches of puck possession.
The poor power play trip was amplified just minutes later. Despite producing a two-on-one odd man rush opportunity between Thrun and junior forward Austin Wong, Harvard was soon hemmed in by a persistent BU forecheck, as the Terriers’ first line took advantage of a mismatch against Harvard’s fourth line and kept the puck in the Crimson zone. Shortly after, BU forward Ethan Phillips was able to deflect a shot from the point by defenseman Case McCarthy past Gibson to give the Terriers a 4-1 lead.
However, only minutes away from heading to the locker room down by three, Harvard came to life in a hurry. After BU forward Dylan Peterson was sent off for roughing following a netfront scrum, during which senior defenseman Marshall Rifai pulled Peterson’s helmet off, the Crimson were given another chance to eat into the Terriers lead and redeem their earlier poor power play.
Harvard’s power play would prove to be much improved the second time around. Halfway through the power play, Thrun’s one-time shot from the faceoff circle was stopped by Duplessis, but he left a lively rebound in the front of the net, and after Coronato’s stuff-in attempt was denied, first-year forward Zakary Karpa was able to force the puck past Duplessis to cut the deficit to 4-2.
The Crimson’s momentum didn’t stop there. 21 seconds after Karpa’s goal, Wong and senior forward Jack Donato entered the zone off the rush. Wong’s initial shot was blocked by the BU defenseman, but he was able to recollect the puck and fire a second shot on net. Duplessis made the save, but the rebound fell right to Jack Donato, who hammered it past the Terrier netminder to cut the deficit to 4-3. Jack Donato celebrated emphatically as he skated back to the bench, sending Harvard back to the locker room only trailing by one.
“We never quit. We have faith in our team as well,” Jack Donato said. “In this tournament, all four teams are able to come back like that. We did it at Cornell, we did it at BC last week, we didn’t lose any confidence on the bench. Power play got us a big goal, got another one right before the end of the second. I thought we had momentum. Maybe [the end of the] period came at kind of a crappy time. I think our guys worked, and we never quit.”
Despite the Crimson entering the third period riding a stretch of strong offense, the BU defense was able to lock down defensively for the majority of the third, smothering the Harvard offense and rebuffing scoring chances. The period once again began with a very physical tone, as both teams threw their weight around in the corners, during intense puck battles, and in open ice. The Terriers had a chance on the power play eight minutes into the period to increase their lead when Rifai was whistled for high-sticking, but Gibson stood tall, denying an attempted deflection through his legs, and a BU forward missed a wide open net just after the power play expired.
“We buckled down in the third period and for nothing to happen, that’s a good job on us. They didn’t really get all that much,” Cockerill said.
Despite needing to generate offense in order to get back in the game, the Crimson was stymied until the very end of the game. The Farinacci-Gaffney-Laferriere line generated a few low-danger opportunities, but they were largely shut down all night. Ted Donato pulled Gibson for the extra attacker with just over two minutes remaining in the game, and Harvard was able to generate a few opportunities, including a netfront deflection by Coronato and a hard wrist shot from Thrun. However, the Crimson never truly threatened with the extra skater, and when Thrun’s shot ricocheted off Duplessis with 12 seconds left, it rolled all the way out of the zone, draining the rest of the clock and sending Harvard to a 4-3 loss.
“This tournament is always an important springboard towards the end of the season, and for us as we come down the stretch in our league, in the Ivy League, in the ECAC, games like this are really important in the one-game elimination set which is what you see once you get to the end of the year,” Coach Donato remarked on the loss. “It’s a tough pill to swallow but I think this experience for a very inexperienced team could serve us well.”
The Crimson are back in action this Friday, February 11, when they take on the Yale Bulldogs at Bright-Landry Hockey Center at 7 pm. They will play the loser of the BC-Northeastern semifinal in the Beanpot Consolation game, Monday the 14th at 4:30pm.
—Staff Writer Bridget T. Sands can be reached at email@example.com
—Staff Writer Aaron B. Shuchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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