In its last game of 2012, the No. 20 Harvard men’s hockey team looked like it was still on break.
The Crimson’s touted penalty kill—ranked ninth nationally coming into Friday's contest—was nowhere to be found in the second period. After falling behind in the first, Northeastern (6-9-1, 3-8-1 Hockey East) came storming back in the opening minutes of the next period and didn’t slow down, beating Harvard (4-5-1, 3-3 ECAC), 5-1. It was the Crimson’s first loss to the Huskies at Bright Hockey Center since 1978.
“I thought there was a lot of energy in the first period, and we had some great scoring chances,” Harvard Coach Ted Donato said. “After they scored those goals…we had about four or five really good chances, and we either missed the opportunities or their goalie made some big saves.”
Northeastern gained a two-man advantage early in the second period and wasted no time in tying up the game at one apiece when sophomore forward Cody Ferriero—who scored 4 goals in the contest—powered a shot past Crimson junior goaltender Raphael Girard.
Even with senior defensemen Danny Beiga back on the ice after serving time for slashing, Harvard was hard pressed to hold off a rejuvenated Huskies offense. Northeastern pounded the Crimson goal with seven consecutive shots before Ferriero found the back of the net three minutes into the period. Ferriero perfected the Huskies’ second period power play conversion seven minutes later, adding his third goal of the period in the final seconds of a Biega tripping penalty.
“It’s tough when you have to kill them back-to-back like that, in a short period of time,” Donato said. “We had Biega in the box a couple times there and that hurt us. He’s one of our best penalty killers.”
While the team’s penalty kill performance was uncharacteristic, so was its starting lineup. Compounding the loss of freshman forward Kyle Criscuolo earlier this week, senior forward Alex Fallstrom was slated to start but saw no playing time. The two have combined to put up five goals and four assists so far this season.
The Crimson also went without freshman forward Jimmy Vesey, who leads the team with five goals and a .600 faceoff win percentage. Vesey was one of three ECAC players selected to represent the US in the IIHF World Junior Championship in Russia and will return to the squad when competition concludes on January 5th.
“We started the game with 11 forwards,” Donato said. “We started the game with [fewer] players than we can use, and we had everybody in.”
Short-sided from the start, Harvard’s woes continued in the third period, as Northeastern’s leading scorer, freshman forward Kevin Roy, put the Huskies up by three, and Ferriero added his fourth goal of the night to cement the 5-1 victory.
The Crimson’s only goal of the game came five minutes into the first period, when freshman forward Brian Hart received a pass from senior defender Brendan Rempel on the right side and snuck a shot past Northeastern goaltender Chris Rawlings on the Crimson’s first power play.
“[Hart] got the puck in the slot, spun around, and made a good shot,” Donato said. “He’s a guy who we think can really elevate his game for us in the second half, and we’ll need him to as we try to not only improve our power play but improve our overall offensive output.”
Harvard saw five more power play opportunities and failed to capitalize on a single one. The Crimson’s 6.1 percent power play percentage has come as a shock this season after they led the nation with a 27.3 percent success rate last year.
“You always have to work on special teams,” said freshman goaltender Peter Traber, who made his second appearance of the season. “Penalty kill is a huge part of the game, and so is power play. Usually we play a pretty defensive style, so it's low scoring... We can't give up three penalty kill goals.”
The Harvard squad was hard pressed to find its way past Huskies goaltender Chris Rawlings, who notched 34 saves in his 10th complete game of the season. Girard had 24 saves for the Crimson and was spelled by Traber, who added nine saves in the final 12 minutes.
“It's obviously great to get in the net, personally,” Traber said. “But the circumstances for the team weren't great. It's a really disappointing loss.”
With the loss, Harvard fell below .500 for the first time this season. Despite squandering a 1-0 first period lead and allowing five unanswered goals after the break, Donato sees potential in the team’s performance.
“For good parts of the game, we had a lot of good things,” Donato said. “We generated a lot of good scoring chances. The takeaway there is that we need to stay out of the box, especially given the circumstances last night with the number of bodies.”
—Staff writer Hope Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org