Harvard hockey star Allen Bourbeau used to call it "a day off."
A consolation game usually brings out the worst in everyone. The fans don't show. The players don't play. And the coaches stand around grumbling, wondering what it would have taken to make the Big Game, the final, the one for all the marbles.
Given Harvard's recent consolation game record--0-4 going back to 1987's Beanpot blooper to Boston College--and the fact that the Crimson was the now defrocked and disappointed favorite to reach the final of the ECAC Tournament, Saturday's Harvard-Vermont ECAC consolation game shaped up as just another walk down Disconsolate Drive.
Except, of course, that an NCAA Tournament bid was on the line.
Harvard (21-9 overall) took care of Vermont, 7-1, in front of 7900 Boston Garden spectators to assure itself of a spot in the 12-team NCAA Tournament.
The Crimson had dropped a pair of games to the Catamounts during the regular season. But thanks to some good goaltending, some good defense and a goal for every day of the week, Harvard reversed its earlier misfortunes.
This consolation game really did console.
"Consolation games aren't the easiest things to play," Harvard Coach Bill Cleary said. "I think, I hope, we made [the NCAA Tournament Committee] aware that this is not a consolation game. This is a game that counted very much."
How much did Harvard want this game? With the Crimson leading, 7-1, late in the third period, Harvard Captain Steve Armstrong dove in front of a Vermont slap shot.
Hockey players may wear pads, but not bulletproof vests. Taking a slap shot in the chest hurts a little more than, say, receiving a slap on the wrist.
"When we have seniors diving for pucks and blocking shots when it's 7-1, that puts out a message to the young guys," freshman forward Ted Donato said. "That's what's made Harvard a winner over the years."
Donato represented his class well Saturday, sitting on top of the scoring bandwagon with two goals and an assist. The senior class got a solid effort from goalie John Devin, who had turned in a tepid performance against Clarkson in the ECAC semifinal game Friday, but recorded 19 saves Saturday.
"I don't think we really got to him, and when we did he did a fine job," Vermont Coach Mike Gilligan said.
Harvard put this game to rest by the end of the second period. Donato led off with a pair of first-period goals--both on assists from Peter Ciavaglia and C.J. Young--and Ed Presz, Armstrong and Mike Vukonich added goals in the second period.
The third period was a mere formality. Vermont forward Kyle McDonough spoiled Devin's shutout with 14 minutes left in the game on a shot from in close.
Vermont, which had not made a trip to the ECAC Final Four in 13 years, had the largest crowd--several thousand strong--but the poorest finish.
"The puck wasn't bouncing for us from the drop of the puck to when the last siren sounded," Gilligan said. "I don't want to take anything away from our kids--I think they had a pretty nice weekend."
But Harvard got the bronze. And never has getting the bronze been more golden.
THE NOTEBOOK Harvard defenseman Scott McCormack suffered an arm injury in the third period and is out for next weekend's games...Ironically, the consolation game featured the ECAC's Coaches of the Year, Cleary and Gilligan...After the game, Gilligan was unsure whether his team would earn an NCAA bid. "We're on spring break," Gilligan said, "so we want to know whether to put on suntan lotion or skates."
For Those Who Were Away...It was Harvard hockey's greatest year ever. For those who witnessed it, there are lasting images of that championship season.
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