Playing for the first time in nearly three weeks, the No. 20 Harvard men’s hockey team salvaged a 2-2 tie as the defense led the way against Merrimack on Friday night in North Andover, Mass.
The Crimson (4-3-1, 3-3 ECAC) found itself a man down for nearly a third of the nonconference showdown, and the Harvard penalty killing unit survived a five-minute major penalty that lasted the entire overtime period.
Both of the Crimson’s goals fell within a half-minute window early in the second period, with tallies coming from sophomore forward Tommy O’Regan and freshman defenseman Desmond Bergin.
“I think overall we’re pretty happy with the way we played,” junior defenseman Dan Ford said. “Merrimack is a tough place to play, and we’ve been off for three weeks, so we knew it was going to be a tough game. But I think we’re happy with the effort that we put forth.”
Harvard looked to be in trouble at the end of regulation when captain Danny Biega incurred a major infraction for kneeing. But the Crimson penalty killing line stepped up in the extra period, surrendering no goals and allowing only three shots while down a man.
“With the five minutes, the only way for us to win the game was with a shorthanded goal,” Ford said. “But the first thing was to take care of the defensive zone, and make sure we were doing a good job killing the penalty.”
All of the game’s scoring occurred in the second period of play. O’Regan struck first for Harvard with just under 17 minutes to play in the period. The sophomore took a pass from Bergin near the goal and struck the puck past the Warriors goalie to record his first tally on the season.
The Crimson found the back of the net again just 31 seconds later, and this time the combination was reversed. O’Regan moved the puck into the offensive zone and passed to Bergin, who ripped a shot into the goal to seize a 2-0 lead.
“We just put on more pressure when we started the second period,” Girard said. “That’s what happened in the third, too; I think we dominated the third. We just kept the game going at a really high tempo.”
But Merrimack (5-7-3, 4-4-1 Hockey East) struck right back with two scores of its own in the same period. Harvard looked to add to its lead on a power play, but Warriors forward Rhett Bly snuck past the Crimson defense to score a shorthanded goal.
Merrimack tied the game just over seven minutes later when Warriors forward Mike Collins picked up a rebound and unleashed a strike that found its way above Girard and into the net.
The score remained knotted at two for the rest of the game as the Crimson picked up its first tie of the year.
Merrimack mustered consistent offense throughout the contest and outshot Harvard, 38-24. Girard contributed a solid performance in goal, contributing 36 saves for the game, his second highest total on the season.
The Warriors had plenty of opportunities to set up in the offensive zone. The Crimson committed eight infractions in the contest and had a man in the penalty box for 19 minutes, its highest amount this year and more than double the time Harvard spent on a power play.
But the Crimson played its best defense of the night in penalty time and did not surrender a single power-play goal. Harvard, which is currently ranked fourth in the nation on the penalty kill, has only allowed two goals while down a man this year.
“[The penalty killing unit] kept the guys on the perimeter,” Girard said. “There were no passes that seemed to get through. They just battled, really.”
—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at email@example.com.