The fifth-seeded Harvard men’s hockey team hadn’t been shut out by an American collegiate team on consecutive nights since 1898.
Bottom-of-the-barrel Brown hadn’t won two games in a row all season. On top of that, no 12th-seeded team had ever toppled a fifth-seed in ECAC playoff history, and the Crimson hadn’t lost a home playoff series in 14 years.
According to the odds, Harvard should’ve been the winner.
But Bears goaltender Mike Clemente made a career-high 47 saves in the second game of the Bank of America ECAC Tournament last Saturday night, giving Brown a 2-0 victory and ending the Crimson’s season in the biggest upset of the weekend.
“We were never able to get that injection of excitement or enthusiasm that we get when we score,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91. “We battled, but we weren’t able to break that seal, and I think Brown deserves a lot of credit. Clemente was superb both nights.”
It wasn’t for Harvard’s lack of effort. Seventeen Crimson players notched shots Saturday night, and Harvard posted a combined 86 shots on the weekend, but the rookie goalie was there to stop each one.
“[Clemente] was really seeing the puck, and he controlled his rebounds,” Donato said. “Having almost 90 shots in two nights and not having a lot of easy rebound opportunities is a credit to how he played.”
“He never really gave us a second opportunity,” co-captain Brian McCafferty said. “He saved everything that came at him, and their defense was real good with clearing away any rebounds that did get away. That whole unit was really good this weekend; they were really hard to penetrate.”
But, on top of Clemente’s stellar play, it seemed like the hockey gods were smiling on the Bears, as the very goalposts saved some of Harvard’s best chances to score.
Four Crimson attempts that weren’t included in Harvard’s final shot tally got by Clemente, but the pucks ricocheted off the pipes, thwarting the Crimson’s offensive efforts.
“In the two nights, I’m sure we had to hit six or seven posts altogether,” Donato said. “You got the sense that that was the way it was going, especially early on in the night when we hit two or three in the first period. I don’t know if I have the answer for how we could’ve solved it.”
Although Harvard’s hot streak was cut short by the Bears, the Crimson had a Cinderella season up until then, battling back from a 13-game winless streak to finish out league play with just one loss in its last nine games and to secure fifth place in the ECAC.
“Coming out of the Beanpot, I think we were playing some of our best hockey, and no one really expected this,” McCafferty said.
But Brown had also made a late-season comeback of sorts—landing a win against Quinnipiac, tying Colgate, and only losing to then-No. 10 Cornell in an overtime finish—before knocking the Crimson out of the running at Bright. Although the Bears had posted their fewest regular-season victories in 20 years, the squad seemed to have bulked up defensively, making a switch in the net (to Clemente) that resulted in two of Brown’s three regular-season victories—and a historic playoff series that will send the Bears to the quarterfinals against Yale this Friday.
“Even looking back to the very first time we played them, which was November or December, it’s a complete 180 to what they are now, especially these last couple weeks,” McCafferty said. “These games this weekend just show how much they’ve grown throughout the year.”
Brown’s victory over Harvard wasn’t the only upset of the weekend. Eleventh-seeded Rensselaer swept sixth-seeded Dartmouth, 2-0 (3-2, 3-1), and will advance to the quarterfinal round against second-place Cornell…Harvard and Brown hold the oldest active rivalry in college hockey. Their first contest took place in Boston in 1898, and the Bears edged a 6-0 victory over the Crimson, Harvard’s last shutout at home…The Crimson is 0-9-2 when trailing after one period this season and, oddly, is 0-2-1 when recording 40 or more shots.
—Staff writer Courtney D. Skinner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.