Monday night’s game at the TD Banknorth Garden might not count for the conference record of the Harvard men’s hockey team (8-10-3, 6-7-2 Ivy). But for its players and especially its seven seniors, the Crimson’s 3-1 victory over the No. 14 Northeastern University Huskies (12-9-3, 9-7-2 Hockey East) brings Harvard somewhere it has not been in a decade: the championship game of the 56th annual Beanpot tournament.
Thanks to a trio of goals in the first seven minutes of the game and strong execution of its defensive strategy for the last fifty minutes, the Crimson managed to address several flaws which have frustrated the team in previous months.
“We really were determined not to turn the puck over, and use our speed wide and try to create some tries and off-angle shots,” head coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “[Northeastern goalie] Thiessen is an excellent goalie and we have a lot of respect for Northeastern, but we really felt that we wanted to play our game.”
Some of Harvard’s most recent losses occurred when its opponents took advantage of the team’s slow start and forced the team to play catch-up hockey. But tonight, the Crimson began the game by crashing the Huskies’ net early and often.
“We always try to forecheck teams hard, that’s one of the strengths of our team,” co-captain Mike Taylor said. “That’s just a result of spinning off the guy and taking the puck to the net, which is something we did pretty well tonight.”
When Northeastern’s defenders repeatedly failed to clear loose pucks bouncing less than ten feet from Thiessen, Harvard managed to jump out to a 3-0 lead before the Huskies could establish any rhythm.
Within the first two minutes, the Crimson pulled ahead thanks to the stick of senior forward Paul Dufault. The play developed after senior forward Jon Pelle’s wrap-around shot bounced out and Dufault and rebounded for the easy goal.
Co-captain Mike Taylor’s fifth goal of the season quickly put Harvard in front, 2-0, when he turned the red light on by stuffing in another loose rebound shot by junior forward Jimmy Fraser.
After sophomore forward Doug Rogers scored on a similar wrap-around shot attempt by senior forward Alex Meintel just 33 seconds later, the score stood at 3-0, and Crimson reverted to its game plan of maintaining possession in the neutral zone and keeping the puck out of the middle of its own defensive zone.
Harvard’s strategy of disciplined defense worked, as the Crimson went a perfect six-for-six on the penalty kill and out-shot Northeastern 33 to 20.
For most of the game, sophomore goalie Kyle Richter enjoyed a less stressful night thanks to the sound defense in front of him. But in the third period, he stifled several of the Huskies’ best scoring chances, most notably at 14:42 when his sprawling save blocked the left post just in time to keep a centering pass from finishing in the net.
Harvard saved its biggest defensive stand for the beginning of the final frame after the Huskies tried to capitalize on the momentum created by Ryan Ginand’s shot that dribbled past Richter with only 28 seconds remaining in the second.
Richter and the special teams faced two nearly back-to-back penalties when freshman forward Joe Smith went to the box at 2:55 and senior forward Alex Meintel again put the Crimson a man down six seconds after Smith went free.
In that four-minute span, the Huskies launched five of their seven third period shots but still struggled to maintain possession in the Harvard zone and find shot opportunities from the high and low slots.
“From the D-men to the forwards, they all did their jobs as best they could and made sure that guys were kept to the outside for their shots,” Richter said. “[They] did a great job picking up sticks and boxing guys out for the rebounds. It makes my job a lot easier, and that was a great effort.”
For a team whose seven seniors have never before competed for the Beanpot trophy, the Crimson are halfway there to crowning Harvard as the king of Hub hockey
The only team that stands in its way: Boston College.
—Staff writer Robert T. Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.