Jonnie On The Spot: Jekyll and Harvard Return

BOSTON, Mass.—It’s all about inconsistency for the No. 14 Harvard men’s hockey team. It’s been the story all season long, and last night’s 5-2 loss to Northeastern in the Beanpot was no different.

At times, the Crimson looked as if it was the stronger team. Harvard prevented Northeastern from getting any shots on goal during the final 10 minutes of the first period and generated several quality scoring chances of its own during that span.

The Crimson was very strong on the puck in the second frame and tied the game at one goal apiece 3:25 into the period on Brendan Bernakevitch’s second goal of the season.

Harvard finished strong, as well, and nearly made a game of it in the final minutes.

But while the Crimson dominated stretches of the contest, it also had lapses.

Ten Northeastern shots preceded that first-period dry spell, including Mike Ryan’s wrister at 9:24 of the frame to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.

Then, Northeastern was able to build a 3-1 lead in the second period thanks to a flukey goal by sophomore center Ryan Dudgeon and a putback by winger Eric Ortlip. Ryan put up two more in the third to seal Harvard’s fate.

In short, it was Jekyll and Harvard once again.

This is the team that beat No. 10 Cornell earlier in the season and tied No. 12 Michigan on the road. It’s also the same group that lost to Vermont, a team that has won only two other games all season long.

With this Harvard club, you have to shake your head and smile sometimes. You just never know what to expect.

But more often than not at the Fleet Center last night, the Crimson put forth an effort that it—and Coach Mark Mazzoleni—was pleased with.

“I’m proud of the way we played tonight,” Mazzoleni said. “I thought we played extremely hard. I can’t question our kids’ effort.”

Northeastern capitalized on the chances that Harvard gave it. The Crimson couldn’t do the same. That’s the story of the game in two sentences.

“They capitalized on their chances and we didn’t,” Mazzoleni said.

And it’s unfortunate for Harvard that it couldn’t catch some breaks and beat Northeastern, because the Beanpot is a great opportunity for the Crimson to demonstrate the progress of Mazzoleni’s tenure. It’s the sort of thing that Harvard can only do in these situations, playing against some of the best teams in the country.

Certainly, the Harvard hockey program has made great strides under Mazzoleni, now in his third year.

But something is missing. Hardware.

No ECAC championships. No Beanpot trophy.

In that sense, the Beanpot means just as much as the Crimson’s ECAC contests. The Beanpot is a trophy to play for, and winning it would be a tangible sign of Harvard’s re-emergence onto the college hockey scene. And—fair or not—it’s going to take some sort of championship to prove that the Crimson is back to stay.

The Beanpot also means something to hockey fans in Boston, a town with the largest college hockey following in the country. If you want to do something to be noticed, what better place to do it than in a sold-out Fleet Center, in front of some of the best fans and journalists in the sport?

Last night, it just wasn’t meant to be. However, the Crimson improved considerably upon its performance over the weekend in losses at Cornell and Colgate. Harvard held its own against Northeastern, one of Hockey East’s most physical teams.

“To be honest, I questioned our effort on Friday and Saturday nights,” Mazzoleni said, in reference to the series in New York. “But if we continue to keep this type of effort and focus, good things will happen for us.”

Junior center Dominic Moore saw a light at the end of the tunnel, as well.

“We have to stay positive,” he said. “It’s easy when you start losing to get down on yourself and the negative vibes start to settle in, but I think we have to just stay positive and keep working hard like we did tonight and eventually things will brighten up for us.”

Harvard can certainly take some positives away from its game with Northeastern, as it was able to skate and create offensive chances.

Overall, Harvard kept tight in its own zone. Freshman goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris played very well.

And the Crimson didn’t give up, which might be the most important thing it can take away from this game.

“We came back strong after a tough weekend,” Grumet-Morris said. “We did lots of the little things. We still have a couple of months left. We’re not out of the [ECAC] race.”

Any way you slice it, though, the result was a loss, just the same. But at least the Crimson’s hellish stretch of three games in four days is over.

And really, things don’t look that bleak for Harvard. It’s still tied for second place in the ECAC and—barring a complete collapse—will more than likely have home ice during the first week of the conference playoffs.

Harvard is now looking at a must-win home game with Vermont this Friday night. With a renewed focus and some time to catch its breath, the Crimson should be able to get back on track.

But that’s just the first step Harvard must take on the road to Lake Placid. The Crimson simply has to take care of business from here on out. While the opportunity for the Beanpot championship has passed it by—and possibly the chance of a regular season title as well, given how hot Cornell has been lately—the third member of the “Title Triology,” the ECAC playoff crown, is still very much there for the taking.

But it’s going to take some consistency. Let’s just smile, shake our heads, and see what happens.