DURHAM, N.H.--Maybe the Harvard hockey team didn't skate well for most of the second and third periods, and maybe it couldn't put a puck past New Hampshire goaltender Todd Pearson in the game's last 40 minutes. And maybe the icemen were outshot, 35-25, and only outstanding play by Wade Lau prevented a loss that might have happened, maybe should have happened--and, according to Billy Cleary, would have happened last year. Whatever.
The fact is, though, that the Crimson proved it belonged with the big boys last night, knocking off powerful UNH, 3-2, here at Snively Arena. Lau was magnificent in the nets; Scott Fusco, Mike Watson and Mark Fusco provided early goals; and, maybes or no maybes, that was enough to lift Harvard (now 4-2) into the sole possession of third place in the ECAC.
There were two Harvard hockey teams on the ice last night. The flashy one, the one that played the first period, came out skating with the speedy Wildcats and didn't let up until it was in the dressing room with a 3-1 lead.
"And then," said Cleary after the game, "I don't know why it happened--if I did I'd be a millionaire--but they simply stopped skating." Team two took over, less flashy, much more defensive (UNH outshot Harvard, 15-4, in the period) but effective at keeping the corps of talented Wildcat forwards (Andy Brickley, Dan Forget, George White, et al) apart from the puck.
"Even though we didn't skate," said Clearly, "we did check and we didn't give them many good opportunities." The defense, especially gutsy sophomore Ken Code, combined with fierce forechecking from the forwards to seal off the UNH offense. And the shots that Code didn't stop with body slides or Mark Fusco didn't intercept and carry out of the zone, Lau got a stick or a pad on--all but a Paul Barton tip-in seven minutes into the game and a Dan Potter deflection with three minutes remaining.
The Crimson did pelt the New Hampshire net with a respectable 25 shots, and few this season have been more spectacular than Mark Fusco's power-play goal with two minutes left in the first period. With Harvard up, 2-1, and Ralph Robinson off for slashing, Fusco took an Alan Litchfield pass in his own zone, crossed center ice and the UNH blueline, and instead of stopping for his usual slapshot from the point, cruised in on Pearson past everybody and flippped the puck into the twines.
"I've never seen anything like that either," Fusco said after the game. "I can't remember ever doing it in my life. I was wide open, plus I caught them on a line change. The side I went in on was all clear--they let me go right through."
That tally finished off the scoring until Potter's deflection late in the game that sliced the margin to 3-2. But the youthful but mature Harvard defense didn't panic in the final three minutes ("That's what a 2-0 victory in the Beanpot will do for you"--Cleary).
They also weren't run ragged because Cleary, as he did in the 7-2 victory over Maine Saturday night, rotated six defensemen instead of the customary two pairings and an alternate.
"I think," he said, "it would have been a whole different third period if we had gone with four defensemen the whole way, especially with the size and strength of some of their forwards. They wear you down."
THE NOTEBOOK: The three stars of the game, as selected by the Cambridge media: Lau, Code, Mark Fusco...Lau has now allowed 16 goals in 351 minutes for a goals-against average of 2.71. He has made 170 saves and his percentage is .913