Riding a four-game losing streak, the Harvard men’s hockey team was in desperate need of a rapid turnaround to save its season this weekend. That turnaround began on Friday, when the Crimson recovered from a two-goal third period deficit to defeat Princeton in the first game of the ECAC playoffs, 4-2.
The Tigers outshot Harvard in the first two periods, but the Crimson rebounded in the final period to even the shot count at 35 apiece.
“I think it was pretty evenly matched the whole game,” senior Doug Rogers said. “We had our opportunities, Princeton had theirs. We thought we were playing well and realized we needed to be urgent. I think we came out a little harder in the third and pressed offensively.”
Princeton, the eighth seed playing at home against ninth-seeded Harvard, took the lead to start the game. At 15:27 into the first period, Tiger Dan Bartlett collected the puck in his defensive zone and made a break down ice toward the Harvard net. With the Crimson defense converging on him, Bartlett sent a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Matt Godlewski at the blue line. Godlewski then ripped a slapshot, which was redirected past Harvard junior goaltender Kyle Richter by Marc Hagel, who was left alone in front of goal.
The Tigers extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period off a goal by Mark Magnowski. The forward beat a Crimson defender on the left side of the ice and attempted a centering pass to an open teammate in front of the crease. Though Harvard captain Alex Biega slid and blocked the pass, Magnowski recollected the puck behind the goal and backhanded it off of Richter and in for the score.
But through two periods, Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba and his defense stumped the Crimson, keeping the squad off the scoreboard. Kalemba saved 31 shots on the night, while at the other end of the ice, Richter made 33 saves.
Both teams were blanked on the power play with Harvard going 0-for-5 and Princeton scoreless in four opportunities.
With 12 minutes left in the third period, sophomore Daniel Moriarty finally opened the Harvard scoring to start the Harvard comeback. After Moriarty caused a turnover in the Tigers’ defensive zone, junior Pier-Olivier Michaud collected the puck and sent a shot on net. Moriarty, having moved in front of the crease, positioned himself and deflected the Michaud shot past Kalemba.
Just over two minutes later, freshman defenseman Danny Biega evened the game after going five-hole on a distracted Kalemba. Four minutes after that, junior Michael Del Mauro registered the game-winner when he corralled senior Jack Christian’s blocked shot and sent the puck between the Princeton pipes.
“I think there’s something to be said for momentum,” Rogers said. “We scored our first one and got two quick ones after that. I think they kind of built off each other.”
Junior Michael Biega ended the scoring with two minutes left to play to make the final score 4-2.
“Friday was a great game for us in terms of adversity, facing adversity,” Alex Biega said. “We were down 2-0 in the third, [and] our team came back and stuck to the game plan. We never got discouraged but kept going.”
Although the squad developed momentum during Friday’s game, Harvard lacked momentum coming into the contest. The Crimson was on a 2-9 slide before the weekend series.
“I think definitely because it’s the playoffs, you’re in a do-or-die situation,” Rogers said. “We thought we played good hockey [last weekend], we just had to sharpen up a little bit and cut down on mistakes at crucial points, and I think we did that.”
As it moves forward in the postseason, the squad will try to recreate the complete team performance of this weekend. In Friday’s game, 12 Harvard skaters registered points, and the Crimson is currently on a 7-0 unanswered goal streak.
“At this point it’s do or die...I think this team is capable of doing wonderful things,” Biega said. “I’ve said it from the get go. We look at the playoffs as another season.”
—Staff writer Jake I. Fisher can be reached at email@example.com.