Saturday was Senior Night at the Bright Hockey Center, and Harvard’s upperclassmen did not disappoint, leading the Crimson to a 2-1 victory over Clarkson on the last day of the regular season.
Harvard (17-10-2, 13-8-1 ECAC) secured a first-round bye and home ice advantage in the ECAC quarterfinals with the win against the Golden Knights (16-15-3, 9-11-2).
Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 called the bye “important, especially [with] the parity in our league this year.”
“To get home ice this weekend,” he said, “I think it’s vital to our chances for success coming down the stretch.”
In their last regular-season appearance on home ice, seniors John Daigneau and captain Peter Hafner stabilized the defensive effort, while senior forward Dan Murphy provided assists on both Harvard goals.
“Some of our seniors had maybe some of their best games of the year,” Donato said. “Our seniors really stepped up, and I think we accomplished a lot.”
While the seniors figured prominently in most of the game’s action, it was junior center Kevin Du who first put the Crimson ahead just 38 seconds into the game.
After Clarkson goalie David Leggio stopped a shot from the blue line by senior defenseman Tom Walsh, Du streaked in from the left side to net the rebound. Murphy was also credited with an assist.
While the early goal suggested that a shootout was brewing, the fireworks ceased for the rest of the period, as the teams traded several power plays without any change in the score.
“We just tried to take away some of their net-front options,” said Donato of his team’s strong penalty-killing effort. “We felt if we played our type of game that we would have a good chance to win, but we knew it was going to be a battle.”
The silence was broken at 18:43 in the second period, when a Murphy shot from the top of the right circle ricocheted off of junior winger Ryan Maki and into the net.
Maki was credited with a power play goal, Murphy with his second assist.
Entering the third period with a 2-0 lead, Harvard found itself facing a redoubled Golden Knights offensive effort.
Daigneau, who had only been forced to contend with 10 Clarkson shots through the first two periods, suddenly found himself under pressure.
He ultimately lost his bid for the shutout at 4:12, when Golden Knights forward David Cayer retrieved the puck from behind the Crimson net and passed to center Steve Zalewski, who sent it past the left post and into the net.
“It would have been nice to have a shutout [in my] last game at home, but it’s part of the game,” Daigneau said. “It didn’t break my heart.”
With only a one-goal lead, Harvard scrambled to keep the puck out of its zone. Daigneau instantly returned to form, recording some crucial saves.
“Johnny’s been playing real well lately,” Hafner said. “He’s really making key third-period saves when we need them, and that’s what you need from your goalie.”
The Crimson offense also regained its composure, turning the pressure back on the Clarkson defense in order to run out the clock for the win.
“We’ve really played well in the last ten, fifteen minutes of games with the lead,” Hafner said. “We had a problem with that early in the season, and we’re really starting to figure out how to play with a lead.”
The bye week should give Harvard time to rest and recover from injuries before the playoffs begin.
“I think our guys, at least for a couple nights, can sit back and be proud of the way they finished the season,” Donato said.
—Staff writer Daniel J. Rubin-Wills can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.