Playing host to a pair of ECAC rivals this weekend, the Harvard men’s hockey team knocked off first-place Union, 4-1, Friday evening, then completed the sweep with a 2-1 win over Rensselaer on Saturday night, moving into second place in the conference standings and setting the stage for a six-game stretch that will feature at least five ranked opponents.
“We do have, I think, as difficult a schedule at the beginning of the season as anybody in the country, at least the East anyways,” Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “I was very happy to get the two wins this weekend, and as a team we’re looking forward.”
Harvard (7-3-1, 5-3-1 ECAC) doesn’t have to look very far. No. 11 Vermont (9-4-3, 4-0-2), unbeaten in its last 11, rolls into Cambridge on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. showdown at Bright Hockey Center.
HARVARD 2, RPI 1
Sure shots are important, but it’s the ones that find the back of the net that count.
The Crimson put the puck on net just 15 times, 11 fewer than the Engineers (7-8-2, 2-5-1), but clutch finishing complemented by Justin Tobe’s solid goaltending did the trick for Harvard.
Without senior forward Brendan Bernakevitch for the third straight game, the Crimson lacked some of its usual punch offensively, particularly on the power play. And, as was the case against Union the night before, Harvard struggled to establish its presence inside the RPI blue line early.
But after efficiently killing sophomore forward Steve Mandes’ penalty 5:19 in, then earning a power play of its own, the Crimson found its form. Despite a 5-on-4 unit markedly different from the one that has propelled the squad to the third-best conversion rate in the country, Harvard maintained its torrid scoring pace with a man advantage.
Sophomore center Kevin Du corralled the puck in the left corner, then fed classmate and blueliner Dylan Reese between the circles. Without a clear shot, Reese set up junior center Charlie Johnson to his left, whose one-timer tipped off a defender’s stick and over netminder Jordan Alford’s left shoulder at 8:53 to give the Crimson a 1-0 lead.
“We broke into the power play pretty easily there,” Johnson said. “[Reese] had a chance to shoot, [but] the guy was kinda in the lane there, so he fed it off to me. I just tried to get it away as quickly as possible.”
Despite finishing the period with just five shots on goal, Harvard kept the Engineers on the defensive, swarming around Alford’s net. With two minutes to play in the frame, sophomore forward Ryan Maki battled his way to a pair of rebounds in front for point-blank efforts, followed a minute later by a wrister from just outside the crease by freshman Mike Taylor. In all three instances, though, Alford was up to the task—he finished with 13 saves—allowing RPI to remain within striking distance.
The Crimson broke through with the eventual game-winner midway through the second period, though, trapping the Engineers down ice with a quick breakout from its defensive zone. Du connected with sophomore forward Ryan Maki as he streaked across the blue line, who in turn dashed into the RPI zone.
With defensemen Tom Walsh and Ryan Lannon skating one behind the other to his left, Maki faked a pass to Walsh out in front, then dumped the puck to Lannon. He in turn slipped past the remaining defender and guided his shot through Alford’s pads to give Harvard a 2-0 lead 9:27 into the second.
The Crimson’s subsequent chances were few and far between—with most resulting in an effort wide of the target—but Tobe saw to it that the lead held up.