On Saturday, they settled for 59:40, holding on to beat former Crimson assistant Nate Leaman’s Union squad, 3-2, in the young coach’s first trip to Bright Hockey Center on the visiting bench.
Neither Leaman nor his Dutchmen (11-14-5, 5-10-3 ECAC) wasted time waxing nostalgic, taking the opening draw and crashing the Harvard net. With Union’s defenders adopting an offensive stance, five skaters buzzed all around junior goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris, who stopped the initial flurry of shots, but was unable to squeeze the puck for a stoppage of play.
With the Crimson (10-13-2, 8-9-1) unable to control the rebound or clear the puck, the Dutchmen bullied Grumet-Morris into surrendering one last rebound on the doorstep, which Jonathan Poirier pushed across the line just 20 seconds into the game to give Union a 1-0 lead.
“Yeah, we wanted to go after them,” Leaman said. “The last three games we lost the first period…I want to go out and I want to play Union hockey and Union hockey, to me, is going out and being aggressive and taking the pace to other teams, not sitting back and adjusting a lot.”
Roused from its slumber by the surprising early offensive, Harvard wasted little time responding, establishing a lasting presence in the Dutchmen zone just moments following the subsequent faceoff.
“Some of the things that you look for [after giving up an early goal] are the next three or four shifts after that,” said Grumet-Morris, who turned aside 17 shots in the win. “And I think right after that we attacked them, and we went right after them. And what we were able to do was establish a little bit of a presence, and we were able to focus on that instead of the goal.”
Positioned in the neutral zone as the Crimson applied pressure from goal line to goal line, senior forward Tyler Kolarik intercepted an errant Union pass and quickly transitioned to attack, with he and freshman Kevin Du closing on net with three defenders in position to cover. Kolarik attracted the first, who delivered a blow that sent the puck trickling towards the middle of the ice.
Du raced forward, extending his stick to control the puck as the remaining defenders attempted to converge on him. But Du staggered through the collapsing lane, recovering his balance with just netminder Kris Mayotte to beat. Feigning a shot from the top of the goalmouth, Du forced Mayotte to his knees, allowing Du to keep the puck a second longer before flipping it over the goaltender’s right shoulder to knot the game at one apiece.
But Harvard did not slink back into its comfortable malaise following the goal, harassing the Dutchmen puckhandlers well before they crossed center ice, generating several golden opportunities to score.
They cashed in twice more.
Crimson captain Kenny Smith, one night removed from being held out of the lineup by Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, snagged a loose puck off a faceoff and nimbly maneuvered his way through two defenders to open ice a hair inside the blue line. Skating right and with traffic to help obscure Mayotte’s view, Smith fired a shot back across his body and into the top left corner of the net, giving the Crimson a 2-1 lead at 11:54 in the first.
“The puck came back to me, and the guys held up their men well,” Smith said. “And I just was able to get to the middle of the ice and skate one way and try to put it the other way on the goalie. I don’t think it was too hard of a shot but I think it caught him off guard going against the grain there.”
Fifty-seven seconds later, Harvard was knocking at the door once again, as junior forward Brendan Bernakevitch sent a pass across ice to senior linemate Dennis Packard, who streaked towards the net. Packard tried the same fake Du had made use of on the Crimson’s first tally, but failed to control the puck in time to snap his backhand. But Packard swooped behind net with no defender to apply pressure, settling the puck before deftly tucking the puck inside the left post before Mayotte could recover his footing.
“They got us on our heels and were really stretching us out well,” Leaman said. “It took us awhile to regroup.”
In all the Crimson launched 12 of its 34 shots during the opening frame to set the game’s tone.