After setting the NCAA record for ties in a season in 2011-12, the Harvard men’s hockey team could not find an equalizer when it needed one most.
With a berth to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 on the line, the Crimson blew a third-period lead and could not convert on a number of late chances to tie the game before Union added an empty-netter and won its first-ever ECAC championship, 3-1.
“I’m disappointed for our guys,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “I thought we worked very hard. I don’t know if we had the same jump tonight that we’ve had over the last few weekends—and obviously I want to give credit for some of that to Union as well—but our guys battled.”
The loss brings to an end a season in which the Crimson surpassed all expectations in even reaching the title game.
Harvard (13-10-11, 8-5-9 ECAC) was picked to finish dead last in the ECAC preseason media poll, but thanks to a late-season run energized by the breakout play of sophomore goaltender Raphael Girard, the No. 19 Crimson topped Yale, last year’s champion, in the best-of-three quarters, and crushed No. 13 Cornell, 6-1, in the semis to reach the finals.
But its loss Saturday night left Harvard on the outside looking in at the tournament while the No. 6 Dutchmen will play on.
Union (24-7-7, 14-4-4) largely dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Crimson, 27-10. But Girard saved each of those Dutchmen shots, and 4:52 into the third, Harvard found the back of the net first. Junior forward Alex Fallstrom got loose on a fast break and centered the puck perfectly for senior forward Alex Killorn, who backhanded a shot through the legs of Union goalie Troy Grosenick to put the Crimson ahead. It was the 53rd, and final, goal of the All-Ivy standout’s career.
“When Killorn scored that goal, I think it was the shot of adrenaline we felt we needed to give us a bit of a boost,” Donato said.
But after neither team had scored in the game’s first 45 minutes, the Dutchmen tied things up just 37 seconds after Killorn’s goal, when Union forward Jeremy Welsh beat his defender, junior Danny Biega, and put a wrist shot through the legs of Biega and Girard from the right circle.
“That’s been a little bit of an Achilles heel all year for us,” Donato said. “After we’ve scored, we’ve given up a goal pretty soon thereafter.”
Four minutes later, Union took a 2-1 lead. Girard made a save on a shot from the right point by the Dutchmen’s Josh Jooris, but the puck deflected out to Shayne Gostisbehere at the left circle. Gostisbehere fired on net, and Girard made the save again, but Daniel Carr buried the rebound from the right side to put Union ahead.
Harvard had a several chances to tie the game late but could not convert.
With three minutes to go, junior forward David Valek took a pass from senior forward Eric Kroshus in front of the net, but Valek’s ensuing shot hit the post. Moments later, freshman forward Tommy O’Reagan got free on a breakaway and had an open look at the net from the left circle, but Grosenick made the save.
With two minutes remaining, Biega got loose in the slot, but Grosenick again responded with a pad save. He made a glove save on a Killorn shot thirty seconds later, and before the Crimson could get another chance, Jurris put the game away with an empty-net goal with 20.5 seconds left, setting off the Dutchmen’s championship celebration.
“We had some good looks in the third,” Donato said. “I was very proud of our guys for the way they finished and the way they battled all season.”