The Crimson squad definitely needed a lift. After 20 minutes RPI held a one-goal advantage, and more importantly the Engineers' forechecking had effectively shut down Harvard's transition game. It was only Grant Blair's fine performance in the net that kept it as close as it was.
Well, the Crimson did get the offensive catalyst it needed early in the second period, and no, it wasn't a Mark Fusco slapshot, a Scott Fusco breakaway, or a Tony Visone blast from in close.
The shot that put Harvard on the scoreboard came from senior Dave Burke, who converted junior Rob Wheeler's blast that went wide to the left of the net and came back around on the boards.
So while the first line was having trouble getting the puck across the blueline, the second line could not keep itself onsides and the third line just wasn't clicking, the fourth line turned the game around by scoring Harvard's first two goals and giving the Crimson a lead it never relinquished.
Coach Bill Cleary didn't even decide on this line until the day of the game. Captain Greg Olson was supposed to play, but he reinjured his ankle in Friday's game and had to sit out. Cleary called on sophomore Brian Busconi to fill in at right wing.
At 11:24 of the second stanza, Cleary's decision sure looked like a good one. Burke brought the puck up to mid-ice and passed it to Wheeler on his left. Wheeler faked the shot and dumped the puck to Busconi, who slammed it in to give Harvard the go-ahead goal.
The trio of Wheeler, Burke, and Busconi has not played together much. In fact, they have not played much at all. Wheeler spent the first half of the season on the J.V. squad (and his first two years here on the Varsity tennis team), while Burke sat out several weeks with an injured knee.
Not only did they rarely play together during the regular season, but since Busconi was playing right wing, Burke had to move to left wing, an unfamiliar position for him.
Despite these difficulties, the line played with poise on Saturday night. Besides the two crucial goals, this threesome continually put pressure on RPI netminder Gerry Fink.
Burke credits the work he and Wheeler have put in together during practice and in the last few contests for their success. "We complement each other," he said. "We have confidence in each other, and we can anticipate each other's moves."
Once Harvard got the lead, the momentum never shifted back to RPI's side. The Crimson began checking with the authority it had in the opening period of the first game, and soon all the lines were playing more effectively. Greg Chalmers tallied once midway through the third period, and the Fusco brothers combined for Harvard's fourth and final goal with less than five minutes left.
So while the "usual" sources got their act together by the end of the contest, it was the unlikely trio of Busconi, Burke and Wheeler--a group that scored a total of eight goals during the regular season--that gave the Crimson the lift when it needed it the most.