Going into last weekend, junior forward David Valek had two goals on the year for the Harvard men’s hockey team. When the buzzer sounded at the end of the third period on Saturday night, Valek stepped off the Bright Hockey Center ice with three times that number.
It was a do-or-die weekend for the Crimson (10-8-11, 8-5-9 ECAC). Harvard victories on Friday and Saturday nights would guarantee the team a top-four spot in the conference standings, assuring Harvard home ice and a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey Championship.
And thanks to Valek, the team was able to do just that.
“As sometimes happens in big games, you need players to step up and make big plays,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91. “And David Valek stepped up and had a huge weekend. He can really shoot the puck, and it looked like this weekend he found some confidence to find that shooter’s touch. It couldn’t have come at a better time for us.”
The Crimson kicked off the weekend action on Friday night against St. Lawrence (13-17-3, 9-11-1 ECAC). The Saints struck first with a power-play goal just six minutes into the action.
It took less than a minute to even the score at one, when Valek found the back of the net following a missed shot from junior defenseman Danny Biega.
Valek continued to shine for the home team. The junior from Dunster House, who spent most of his childhood in his father’s native Croatia, added another goal in the third period, scoring on an assist from senior forward Daniel Moriarty.
Valek supplemented his strong offensive play with key contributions on the defensive end, finishing with six of the Crimson’s 15 blocked shots.
Although Harvard rode Valek’s strong play to a 4-1 victory, it was still too early for the Crimson to celebrate. Harvard still had to take care of business against Clarkson (15-15-6, 9-9-4 ECAC) on Saturday night in the Crimson’s final home game of the regular season to ensure the coveted first-round bye.
“Obviously after every win, the team is all excited, but to win back-to-back games in the ECAC is difficult,” Valek said. “[Saturday’s game] was pretty much already a playoff game for us. I think we had that mindset, that mentality, that even though we got it done on Friday, Saturday’s game was extremely important as well.”
The Golden Knights stormed out of the gates and took the lead in the first period. Unlike the previous night, Harvard did not have an answer in the opening frame. Instead, Clarkson capitalized on a five-on-three power play in the second period to grab the two-goal edge.
Following a power-play goal of its own, Harvard entered the third period down, 2-1. It was during this final 20 minutes that David Valek recaptured his magic touch from the previous night’s game.
The Zagreb, Croatia native knotted the score at two with a goal 2:07 into the third period, putting freshman forward Tommy O’Reagan’s pass into the back of the net.
Five minutes later, O’Reagan and Valek went back to work. O’Reagan blocked a shot on the defensive end and raced up the rink with the puck. He contributed his second assist of the day when he found Valek, who beat the Golden Knights goalie for the second time on the night to give the Crimson its first lead of the game.
Harvard shut down Clarkson in the third period, preserving the tenuous one-goal lead to defeat the visitors, 3-2.