CANTON, NY-The trip to North Country is never easy for the Harvard men's hockey team. Clarkson (7-9-3, 2-4-3 ECAC), the pre-season favorite to win its third-consecutive ECAC championship, and St. Lawrence (11-6-2, 6-2-1 ECAC), another strong ECAC finalist, are usually the most difficult teams to face in the conference--especially when squaring off on their home turf.
However, this past weekend gave the Crimson (7-10-1, 6-6-1 ECAC) its best opportunity to sweep the Golden Knights and the Saints on the road for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
Before this match-up, Clarkson occupied last place in the ECAC, while St. Lawrence shared the fifth spot with Rensselaer (13-6-1, 5-4-1 ECAC) and Dartmouth (4-7-4,3-2-3 ECAC). For Harvard, which entered the weekend in first place, the standings foretold a pair of relatively easy games.
But one can never underestimate the strength of these two upstate New York teams, especially with the absences of junior winger Steve Moore due to a wrist injury, and freshman winger Brett Nowak with a dislocated shoulder in Saturday's game.
Taking advantage of the Crimson's weaknesses, Clarkson stole its first league win with a 5-2 victory over the Crimson at Cheel Arena on Friday, while St. Lawrence defeated Harvard 6-4 at Appleton Arena the following night.
The pair of losses, Harvard should've left the weekend in a first place tie with the Saints, albeit giving up four games in hand. However, on Monday the ECAC announced that it would rank teams this season based on winning percentages, not points, in response to the cancellation of Vermont's season over its hazing scandal.
The decision immediately rectified the extra games, and the Crimson--at .500 in conference--fell all the way to a seventh place tie with Cornell. St. Lawrence sits in sole possession of first.
St. Lawrence 6, Harvard 4
A far cry from last year's high-caliber performance against the Saints, despite a 5-4 loss in overtime, Harvard struggled to keep pace with the Saints for most of the game. St. Lawrence opened up a 6-2 lead before a pair of meaningless late Crimson goals gave the final margin of victory.
Saints winger Alan Fyfe slammed home the eventual game-winner at 17:55 of the second period. On the power play, St. Lawrence center Brandon Dietrich passed the puck to defenseman Matt Desrosiers up at the point. Desrosiers took a slapshot on Harvard junior goaltender Oliver Jonas, who couldn't find the rebound before Fyfe did.
"We're not a team that responds well to adversity," Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said. "We spotted them two, and we dug ourselves a tremendous hole."
The Crimson sluggishly took the ice in the first period, and somehow managed to keep the play pretty even for about half of the opening stanza.
"I didn't think we had any rhythm tonight," Mazzoleni said. "None at all."
Jonas kept Harvard in it for the early going robbing Saints center Erik Anderson at 8:09 of the first on dead-on shot between the circles, that caught Jonas off guard, but he still managed a kick save without even seeing the puck.
However, the defensive breakdowns began to damage the Crimson at 9:28 when Desrosiers put the puck past Jonas' right shoulder at 9:28. St. Lawrence winger Mike Gellard and Dietrich were both stoned by Jonas, but a second rebound escaped to Desrosiers at the left point, giving the Saints the 1-0 lead.
At 15:38, St. Lawrence doubled its lead 2-0 with a shot from Saints' winger Jason Windle. Windle split the defense and broke in alone on Jonas through the neutral zone, deking Jonas out of position for the goal.
A two-goal lead early in the game did not bode well for the Crimson, who consistently has difficulty overcoming a large deficit. But in perhaps the most impressive Harvard effort of the night, senior winger Scott Turco did his best to reverse that trend.
Turco worked the puck down low and shielded off the St. Lawrence defender with his body, while backhanding the puck through the upper left corner with only 42 seconds left in the first, cutting the Saint lead in half.
But Harvard would lose another top scorer as a separated shoulder kept Brett Nowak from starting the second period. It would lose almost any chance at a comeback early in the second with almost the same defensive gaffe.
On the power play, Dietrich notched his first goal of the game at 5:52 of the second. Dietrich, unmarked just outside the crease, was in perfect position to take a pass from Fyfe to make it 3-1. Slightly more than a minute later, the exact same play occurred in even strength, this time with a pass from Gellard, giving the Saints a three-goal lead.
Harvard came within two goals at 11:53 in the second in a five-on-three man advantage. Freshman center Dominic Moore's pass across to senior defenseman Matt Scorsune gave the Crimson the classic power-play goal from the point.
Two minutes later, Fyfe sealed the Crimson's fate with St. Lawrence's fifth goal of the night.
The final period resembled more of a brawl than a hockey game, with the Crimson notching four penalties, and the Saints amassing five.
Amidst all the fighting, Gellard managed to net St. Lawrence's sixth and final goal at 7:48.
Emotions boiled over from both the players and Mazzoleni as it because clear that the Saints would steal the win. Mazzoleni, initially upset over a fan-aided whistling of Turco for holding, boiled into a rage over a disputed Harvard line change. Mazzoleni, usually very quiet behind the bench, engaged in a heated exchange with the referee and the team suffered a bench minor for delay of game at 10:46.
"I didn't understand what he was saying to me. I knew it was going to be a four-on-four situation, and all I wanted to do was put Allman and Macleod out in our defensive zone to have some stability out there," Mazzoleni said. "That's when he came over to the bench and I asked him for an interpretation."
The Crimson posted two goals within three minutes from Scorsune and captain Trevor Allman, to narrow the final margin of victory.
Jonas made a career high 40 saves in defeat.
Clarkson 5, Harvard 2
With the loss to Clarkson last weekend, it marked the second occasion where the Crimson has given a bottom-dwelling ECAC team its first league win of the season.
"It's been a long process, and we're not consistent. We haven't had much puck-luck, and we lost a couple of people for personal reasons," Clarkson Coach Mark Morris said. "We had a purpose to play hard because [former Clarkson assistant coach] Ron Rolston was on the Harvard bench tonight."
The first period ended in a 1-1 draw, but it seemed as if the Crimson was on its way to breaking the Golden Knights' six-game winning streak in the series.
Sophomore winger Matt Macleod notched the Crimson's second goal only 3:48, trickling a shot through Clarkson goalie Shawn Grant in to the middle stanza, putting Harvard ahead 2-1 and apparently in the driver's seat.
"I just kind of swung at the puck and it went right through the guy's legs," Macleod said. "It's not a skilled goal, but against this team, that's what we're looking for. Coach told us it was going to be a pretty ugly game."
Golden Knights' center Don Smith tied the score at two 12:48 in to the second, and freshman winger Mikko Ruutu netted the game-winner for Clarkson. Less than a minute after Smith's equalizer, Ruutu's slapshot from the left corner was stoned by senior netminder J.R. Prestifilippo. Ruutu hustled to the crease and launched his own rebound in to the top left shelf over Prestifilippo's shoulder.
"The turning point was the turnover in the second period," Mazzoleni said. "It was a 3-2 game and we were done. When we're behind, we're not a team that can come back to win."
In an attempt to overcome a tough 4-2 loss to Princeton the week before, the Crimson played a strong first period.
Freshman center Dominic Moore proved why he's currently leading the Crimson with nine goals at 6:01 in the first. Moore and sophomore Jeff Stonehouse swooped in on Grant in a two-on-one rush. Drawing Grant off his mark by faking a pass to Stonehouse, Moore slid the puck past Grant on his glove side to give Harvard a 1-0 lead.
With just under five minutes to play in the first, freshman defenseman Aaron Kim stepped in to the sin bin on a holding call. The man advantage was exactly what Clarkson needed to light the lamp, as Smith launched a hard one-timer from the right point past Prestifilippo, evening the score at one apiece.
Once Ruutu put Clarkson ahead, 3-2 the Golden Knights asserted control over the game.. Riding high off of its late second-period momentum, winger Murray Kuntz netted Clarkson's fourth goal only 39 seconds in to the third period.
A Harvard turnover at the blue-line allowed Poapst and Kuntz to rush in on Prestifilippo. Poapst dished to Kuntz who netted the puck for the Golden Knights' first insurance goal.
"Our defensive core is our Achilles' heel," Mazzoleni said. "When people are able to put consistent pressure on them and make them make
decisions with the puck, we have difficulty."
David Evans scored the last goal of the game for the Golden Knights at 10:20 on the power play.
Harvard now enters its exam break mired in a three game losing streak. It returns to ECAC play on Feb. 4 at home against Cornell.