After a tough loss to Union on Friday night, the No. 13/14 Harvard men’s hockey team delivered a decisive 4-0 victory over Rensselaer on Saturday evening at Bright Hockey Center.
The Crimson (3-2, 2-2 ECAC) snapped a two-game losing streak to take the final game of the homestand behind a freshman line that played together for the first time against the Engineers (0-4, 1-5-2).
With the loss of sophomore forward Colin Blackwell to injury, Harvard relied on freshmen Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo, and Brian Hart in the second line.
The Crimson’s freshman class, ranked first in the ECAC coming into the season, accounted for three of the team’s four goals.
“[Playing together] was a lot of fun,” said Hart, who netted his first goal of the season in the first period. “[Criscuolo] has been great both ways, and [Vesey] obviously has a ton of skill. Now that we are playing together, hopefully we can practice a little bit more together and build that chemistry.”
Harvard came out strong in the first period, taking 22 shots to the Engineers’ five. Just six minutes into the contest, the Crimson was on the power play, but the team failed to capitalize on that man-up opportunity—or its other five—on the night.
Thirty seconds after the first power play ended, Harvard broke the 0-0 tie. After senior center Luke Greiner won a faceoff, senior right wing Alex Fallstrom played a pass across the goal, which ricocheted off Engineer goalkeeper Bryce Merriam. As the puck bounced around in front of the goal, senior left wing Marshall Everson found net, beating Merriam for his third goal of the season.
The Crimson’s first line had the first goal, but for the rest of the night it was all about the second line.
Fourteen minutes into the period, Hart took a pass from sophomore center Ryan McGregor and passed up two Rensselaer defenders before playing it into the back of the net to give Harvard a 2-0 lead.
“[The second line] had a big game for us tonight, and hopefully we’ll continue to have different guys step up,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said after the game. “Hart’s goal was a big-time play and a great shot. He’s really played much better than his stat line.”
Vesey contributed the Crimson’s final two goals of the night, both unassisted, for his fourth and fifth scores of the season.
In the second period, Vesey forced a Rensselaer turnover, gathered the puck at center ice and broke away to take an undefended shot. On the final play of the game, Vesey blocked a shot by defenseman Craig Bokenfohr and scored Harvard’s fourth goal on an empty net to cap off a big night.
“[Besides scoring] he did a lot of other things that rounded out his game and made him more complete,” Donato said. “Even though the empty-net goal came after a blocked shot, those are the types of things that as a team we want to take pride in and celebrate.”
In the net for the Crimson, junior goalkeeper Raphael Girard made 24 saves for his second career shutout.
One of his key stops was an acrobatic block of the Engineers’ best chance of the night, a breakaway in the second period by center Mark McGowan.
Rensselaer threatened again at the end of the second frame, taking eight shots in the final two minutes, but the visitors couldn’t get one past Girard and the Harvard defense.
“I think Raph is one of our best players, and tonight we played more of a team game and were able to clear the net out for him,” Vesey said.
Girard’s Engineer counterpart Merriam dealt with more pressure throughout the night, as Harvard outshot Rensselaer 38 to 24. Merriam made 34 saves, but he could not hold off a strong Crimson offense, which won 37 of 60 faceoffs and saw six power plays to Rensselaer’s three.
After consecutive losses to Yale and Union, Harvard picked up its first home conference win of the season to bring its conference record back to .500.
“It was a big night for us because we got beat pretty bad two nights in a row, two home games in a row,” Donato said. “We couldn’t really feel proud of the way we played [Friday], so it was a real character test for us [Saturday].”