With each team hitting its respective mid-season stride, it seemed that something had to give.
Neither team budged, though, and the result was a 3-3 tie before a sellout crowd of 6,719 at Yost Ice Arena.
"I'm really proud of the way our kids played," said Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni. "This is a tough building, and they jumped on us early. But we showed a lot of resiliency, stayed up, and started to play our game."
Playing in front of the always-raucous Yost crowd, the Wolverines (10-5-3, 8-3-2 CCHA) came out firing on all cylinders and took a 1-0 lead on fourth-line winger David Wyzgowski's one-timer from the high slot just 2:58 into the game.
Michigan was able to maintain its momentum through much of the opening frame, and even prevented the Crimson (5-4-3, 5-2-2 ECAC) from mustering a shot on goal until 7:20 to play in the period.
Shortly after, the Crimson turned the tide. Harvard picked up its pressure and forced Michigan center Craig Murray to take a holding penalty just 12 seconds after the Crimson forced Wolverine goaltender Josh Blackburn to make his first save of the night.
The Crimson cycled the puck well during the ensuing power play, and Harvard center Dominic Moore appeared to have tied the game at 13:32 of the period after crashing the Wolverine goal. However, referee Kevin Hall determined that Moore's skate had kicked the puck past Blackburn-a ruling with which Moore agreed-and the goal was disallowed.
But while the goal itself did not count, the Crimson seemed to rally around it. Harvard picked up its physical play and outshot Michigan for the remainder of the period, which concluded with another holding penalty on the Wolverines.
Beginning the second period with a fresh sheet of ice, a man advantage and the game's momentum, the Crimson was able to get on the board.
After collecting a rebound in the Harvard zone, Moore took matters into his own hands, zipping by everyone along the left wing and into the Michigan end. None of the Wolverine defenders so much as breathed on Moore as he brought the puck behind the Michigan goal before wrapping it around and slamming it between Blackburn's pads to tie the game just 54 seconds into the period.
"[After scoring first] we needed to get the next one but didn't," said Michigan Coach Red Berenson. "They came back and held up."
After each team had quality scoring chances, the Harvard power play struck again later in the second period.
With Michigan winger Michael Woodford in the sin bin for elbowing, Moore once again catalyzed the Crimson attack, skating the puck up from behind the goal line before looping into the high slot and firing a picture-perfect pass to winger Tyler Kolarik on the doorstep. Kolarik one-timed it past Blackburn to silence the Yost crowd and give Harvard its first lead of the game with 11:35 left in the second period.
Michigan winger Eric Nystrom-who is taking the place of injured Harvard defenseman Noah Welch on the U.S. team at the IIHF World Junior Championships later this month-got the Yost faithful back into the game just over three minutes later. The Syosset, N.Y. native worked a perfect two-on-one with junior center John Shouneyia and beat Harvard goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris top-shelf to make it 2-2 at the 12:30 mark.
Nystrom's goal was the only tally on the night for Michigan's top line, which is usually centered by Mike Cammalleri, the Wolverines' leading scorer with 14 goals and 10 assists. Cammalleri was out on Saturday night and will miss the Wolverines next four games to train with the Canadians for the World Junior tournament.
The remainder of the second period saw quality scoring chances for both teams, as Grumet-Morris had to sprawl across the crease to spoil a power-play bid by Wolverine forward Jason Ryznar, and Harvard's Tim Pettit barely missed on a breakaway attempt in the final minute.
Harvard seized control of the game as the third period opened, playing intelligent defense and nearly scoring twice between a breakaway bid by sophomore winger Dennis Packard and a David McCulloch shot from the point that hit the post in the frame's fourth minute.
However, it was Michigan's hard-working fourth line that broke the deadlock. Freshman center Charlie Henderson beat Grumet-Morris from the top of the left faceoff circle through a David Moss screen to give the Wolverines a 3-2 lead with 13:10 to play in the third.
The Wolverines' downfall-an inability to stay out of the penalty box with the red-hot Crimson power play-allowed the Crimson to tie the score once again. With Nystrom down for a slashing call, McCulloch's pass from the point found Packard just in front of the crease. Packard then put it past Blackburn glove side to tie the game again at 9:49 of the period.
"Our poor job of penalty killing cost us a chance to win the game. We had to throw some people who might not normally be out there on the penalty kill," said Berenson, who was without two key defensemen in addition to Cammalleri. "We made some mistakes in our rotation and denying the shot. [Harvard's] power play didn't overwhelm but it was effective. That was the difference in the game."
Harvard finished 3-for-6 on the power play, while Michigan was 0-for-3.
"We have some skill on our power play," Mazzoleni said. "They play a pressure game, so we had to rotate it away from that and get it on the net."
The Wolverines almost won the game in regulation with several quality chances in the third and then controlled play in the extra session. With just under three minutes to go in overtime, Michigan winger Milan Gajic found himself skating in all alone on the Harvard net. Gajic tried to deke Grumet-Morris, but the Crimson netminder was able to turn his bid aside with his left leg.
"I was holding my breath," Mazzoleni said of Gajic's breakaway.
Grumet-Morris, though, was as composed as ever.
"I wanted to come out and cut down his angle," he said. "I wanted to be as patient as I could until he committed."
Grumet-Morris was often spectacular between the pipes, stopping 35 shots, eclipsing his previous career high of 31 against St. Lawrence earlier this season.
"I was just looking to make the easy save," said Grumet-Morris, whose parents each hold degrees from Michigan. "Our coaches did a good job preparing me. I had a good feel for their power play."
Blackburn made 20 saves for Michigan.
Harvard remained undefeated in overtime games this season (1-0-3), while the Wolverines are now 2-1-3 in extra frames. The Crimson has not lost in overtime since Nov. 25, 2000 against Boston College