For the first time in Harvard’s history, the men’s hockey team faced back-to-back shutout losses to a collegiate opponent on Friday and Saturday night at Bright Arena. In the first-round series of the ECAC Hockey Championship, No. 12-seed Brown (5-21-5) handed the fifth-seeded Harvard (9-16-6) two tight season-ending loses. Saturday night, with a must-win tension surrounding the Crimson players, the traveling Bears played to their best ability in a tight 2-0 win filled with frequent whistles and frequent shots.
But the match’s turning point did not come on a whistle, but rather on an attempt by Harvard co-captain Jimmy Fraser with 7:37 left in the first period. Taking the puck past neutral and into Bears territory, Fraser fired a shot to the right of Brown freshman goalie Michael Clemente. The puck hit the post and seemingly dropped into the net before bouncing out. But the referees immediately waved off the goal, concluding the puck never crossed the goal line and frustrating the Crimson players.
“I think in two nights, we hit six or seven posts altogether,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “You get that sense that that’s the way it was going.”
Prior to Fraser’s almost-goal, Brown started off the game using its momentum from Friday night’s upset, with a backhanded shot by senior Eric Slais less than three minutes into the game that put the Bears up 1-0.
Despite Harvard’s 15 attempts in the first period alone, compared to Brown’s eight, the Crimson could not get the puck past the Bears defense and Clemente, who made a career-high 47 saves on the night.
“We came out and tried to give them everything that we had, but they played well,” senior co-captain Brian McCafferty said. “Every shot that we took on [Clemente], he was real good with the rebounds. He never really gave us a second opportunity and he saved everything that came at him. Their whole unit really did a good job this weekend, which is hard to penetrate.”
The rest of the first period would pass with Harvard seeming to get more and more frustrated at its inability to even out the score, losing some of its earlier momentum.
“I don’t feel that we were able to ever get that injection of excitement and enthusiasm that you get when you score,” Donato said. “I thought we battled, but we could never break that seal.”
On paper, Harvard looked to be the favorite coming into Saturday’s game, with Brown only winning five games this season compared to the Crimson’s nine. The Bears also had not won two games in a row this season, and prior to this weekend, it had only won one of nine playoff games against Harvard.
But the Crimson knew not to doubt its Ivy rival’s ability.
“Coming out of the Beanpot, I think that we were playing some of our best hockey and nobody really expected this,” McCafferty said. “But they’ve given us trouble all of my career. I think I’ve won one game against them in the four years I’ve played. It’s never an easy game against Brown, and they came these past two games and took it to us.”
In the second period, Harvard again outshot its opponent 14-9. But despite a back-and-forth 20 minutes, and a power play each, neither team managed to put the puck in the net.
Despite sophomore goalie Ryan Carroll’s 24 saves, Brown found another opportunity to score at 3:27 in the third. A penalty on Harvard sophomore Matt McCollem for interference, quickly followed by an infraction on assistant captain Alex Biega for boarding, gave the Bears 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage.
With new energy, Brown junior Aaron Volpatti took a pass from senior Matt Vokes and pushed it across Carroll’s line, giving the Bears an insurance goal.
“Without scoring, at some point we were going to make a mistake,” Donato said. “At times we were pressing to try to get something going, but Clemente gave us few chances. I think we did a lot of things better than we did last night, but ultimately it didn’t end up in goals.”
In the last minutes of the third period, with Brown’s Slais in the penalty box and Carroll out of goal, the Crimson had a two-man advantage and looked ready to attack. Even with taking the last eleven shots, Harvard still could not manage to get past Clemente. The only close attempt came from junior forward Doug Rogers whose shot bounced again off of the post. With Brown clearing the puck out of its territory, time expired, ending the game and ultimately Harvard’s season.
After a rollercoaster campaign, the Crimson will have to wait to step back on the ice until next year.
“Do I think we could have played better? Certainly,” Donato said. “It’s an early ending for us.”