Sophomore forward Michael Biega assisted on the Crimson’s first goal and tallied the game-winner against Dartmouth on Friday night.
For the first two periods of Friday night’s game between the No. 20 Harvard men’s hockey team and Dartmouth, the growing number of penalties and back-and-forth play left the outcome uncertain. After the Crimson (1-0, 1-0 ECAC) exploded for three third-period goals to cruise to a 4-1 win over the Big Green (0-1, 0-1 ECAC), Harvard sent a message that its young players can contribute when it counts.
Harvard’s players also have a stronger sense for the types of adjustments that need to be made for the season to be a success.
“At times, it looked like the first game of the season for both teams, execution-wise, but I knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91.
In his first collegiate start, freshman Matt Hoyle turned away 30 shots for the night. His only misstep came in the first period, when Dartmouth’s Scott Fleming converted on the power play from in front of the net at 14:54 to even the score at 1-1.
“The team was helping me out a lot,” Hoyle said. “I was a little nervous at the beginning, which is to be expected, but then I just calmed down a lot.”
Freshman Colin Moore played a strong role in the penalty kill and won praise from Donato for his impressive play, which included a breakaway scoring chance in the second period after Moore stole the puck in the neutral zone.
“I thought Colin Moore was excellent in the 5-on-3 killing penalties,” Donato said. “He saw a lot of ice time tonight, and I thought he handled that well.”
Sophomore Pier-Olivier Michaud also established a strong presence on the ice with his first-period goal to put Harvard ahead 1-0 with 7:52 left in the first period. Michaud stuffed the puck in from just outside the crease following a scrum in front of the Dartmouth net.
Though the Big Green managed to crash the net in the first two periods and create chaos in front of Hoyle on rebounds, the freshman kept his composure throughout the night. Harvard’s team defense did an admirable job keeping the Big Green’s forwards out of the middle of the offensive zone.
Harvard certainly did not make it easy for its freshman goaltender, as the Crimson committed a total of 13 penalties. Luckily, Harvard’s defense managed to kill 11 consecutive Big Green power plays after Dartmouth’s goal in the first.
“We’ve got to give a lot of credit to our penalty kill and our power play,” Hoyle said. “Three power play goals, and our penalty kill was phenomenal back there, all over the place, saved me from having to make a lot of saves and really helped me out.”
Part of the reason for the penalties was the stricter enforcement of high-sticking penalties, something which all coaches and teams in the ECAC must adjust to this season.
Special teams tipped the balance in the third period for the Crimson. After two periods in which the Big Green out-shot Harvard a combined 21-18, the Crimson was searching for an offensive spark when sophomore Michael Biega banged in a rebound at 12:21. After a shot from junior forward Doug Rogers bounced off goalie Jody O’Neill, Biega knocked down the puck from mid-air and stuffed it past O’Neill’s left for an easy goal.
“Dartmouth plays really hard, they always do. All the games have been close,” Rogers said. “I thought our teams stepped up our gameplan. It was 1-1 through 40 minutes, and we kept going and eventually we were able to get a few in.”
Senior Nick Coskren added the insurance goal to make the score 3-1 with 11:15 left in the game.
Despite having three power-play opportunities at the end of the third period, Dartmouth could not capitalize and even let up a short-handed empty-netter when co-captain Jimmy Fraser scored with only four seconds remaining.
Clearly, Donato’s intermission adjustments entering the third period helped the team recover from the hectic nature of the first two periods.
“I just told them to stay with it and really try to establish our forecheck and use our speed off the rush,” Donato said. “I think we were able to do that in the third period.”
Even though the Crimson knows that staying out of the penalty box will be critical for future success, the team has demonstrated that it can recover from slow starts and penalties to change the momentum.
“Dartmouth brought some good younger players in and obviously they were a challenge,” Donato said. “But I think all in all, the guys can be very proud. They did very well.”
—Staff writer Robert T. Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.