Catapulting Into First

After the month it has had, the Harvard men’s hockey team might want to consider playing only top-10 teams.

Two weeks removed from its wins over Boston College and Boston University, the Crimson toppled No. 10 Vermont, 3-1, last night at the Bright Hockey Center, snapping the Catamounts’ 11-game unbeaten streak and taking sole possession of first place in the ECAC.

“They know how to win,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon ’92 said. “They’re very similar to how we played recently. They just find a way to get it done.”

That meant crashing the net, outhustling the defense for positioning and hoping for timely rebound opportunities to poke past rookie Joe Fallon, one of the nation’s top goaltenders.

With the score knotted at one and Harvard’s sixth power play drawing to a close early in the third period, Charlie Johnson flung a last-chance shot on net from the point, forcing a pad save from Fallon, who could not control the rebound. Fighting through a check, Dan Murphy corralled the puck, then went top shelf, beating Fallon glove side for the game-winner.

“We know we’ve got to manufacture goals,” Murphy said. “We’re not going to be going 1-on-1. Nothing’s going to be pretty for us, so we’re just trying to get the puck to the net and then outwork people at the net. And I think that’s all that happened tonight.”

But that formula didn’t translate into instant success. Despite holding a distinct edge, the Crimson (8-3-1, 6-3-1 ECAC) couldn’t capitalize on any of its scoring chances in the opening period, hitting the crossbar once and finding Fallon’s pads on several other occasions from just outside the crease.

Regrouped following the first intermission, UVM (9-5-3, 4-1-2) pounced on forward Steve Mandes’ cross-checking penalty 1:02 into the second period, immediately applying heavy pressure inside the Harvard defensive zone.

Defenseman Jamie Sifers’ shot from the right circle deflected off a skate in front and bounced to the left side of the Harvard net, where captain Noah Welch stood poised to clear the zone. But the puck hopped over his stick and onto Joey Gasparini’s tape. The Catamounts forward wasted little time, burying his chance top shelf to give UVM a 1-0 lead 2:42 into the frame.

But rather than faze the Crimson, the surprising change of fortune galvanized Harvard’s offense, which struck back just 14 seconds later.

“We were obviously a little bit deflated because we’d had a few power plays and weren’t able to get anything going,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “So it was a huge lift to be able to bounce right back like that and tie the game.”

Before Gasparini’s goal could be announced, Dylan Reese gained possession on the subsequent faceoff and threaded a pass through a seam in the UVM defense to Murphy. The junior forward broke in all alone and wristed a shot that caught Fallon in the chest. The ensuing rebound kicked to freshman Tyler Magura, who banged it home from the right post to draw the Crimson level.

“We made a brutal defensive mistake on that first goal,” Sneddon said. “He got behind our defense, [and] we talk to the team about that all the time.”

Thereafter, the overwhelming majority of bona fide scoring chances belonged to the Crimson, which peppered Fallon from close range at the offensive end and kept the Catamounts from encroaching on Dov Grumet-Morris’ net at the other.

Though UVM squeezed off 10 shots in the final 20 minutes, none came from the area just beyond the goalmouth, thanks in large part to Harvard’s defensemen, who quickly secured any loose rebounds.

But with just 80 seconds to play, the Catamounts appeared to have slipped that coverage for one last-chance effort. Mike Arcieri wound up for a slapshot from between the circles, but the puck kicked off a Crimson defender and skidded safely past the net.

“With their six NHL players on the blue line,” Sneddon said, “shots and rebounds are tough to come by.”

But, mirroring Murphy’s efforts—in pursuit of a loose puck midway through the third, the winger collided with Fallon before collapsing on top of him—Harvard saw no shortage of point-blank opportunities.

With 8:30 left to play, Welch slipped past a defender at the right faceoff circle, then whipped a backhanded shot at Fallon. The senior defenseman then pounced on the rebound, beating the netminder, but sending the puck just wide of the post.

Once Fallon—who recorded 27 saves—was lifted, senior Brendan Bernakevitch sealed the victory, putting home his seventh shot of the night with 47 seconds left to give the Crimson its 3-1 win.

“It is a good measuring stick,” said Grumet-Morris, who notched 22 saves. “But also it’s preparation for the second half of the season and the playoffs…If you look at our opponents this year, especially out of conference, it is challenging, and so I think that it’s good preparation.”

NOTES: Last night’s victory was Harvard’s eighth in nine games. The Crimson has now won four straight...Bernakevitch returned to the lineup after missing three games with an inner-thigh contusion sustained on Nov. 26 against St. Lawrence. He skated on the first line with Cavanagh and freshman Mike Taylor...Harvard was 0-for-6 on the power play, dropping its conversion rate to 23.1 percent, fourth-best in the country.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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