NEW HAVEN, Conn.—It was a Freaky Friday for Crimson goaltenders Steve Michalek and Raphael Girard.
On Jan. 11 at Madison Square Garden, junior Michalek had taken senior Girard’s spot in net after a goal from sophomore forward Cody Learned at 5:41 in the second period put Yale up three. On Friday night at Ingalls Rink, the two goaltenders skated a mile in the other’s moccasins as a breakaway strike from Learned at 5:44 in the middle frame put the Bulldogs up three and prompted Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 to swap in Girard for Michalek.
By the final horn, the story was the same for the Harvard and Yale men’s hockey teams. The defending national champions routed the Crimson, 4-0, in Game One of the teams’ first round ECAC Tournament series in New Haven.
“I give [the Bulldogs] credit, but I don’t think they had to be at their best, quite frankly,” Donato said. “We just made it too easy. The chances we gave them in a playoff scenario just can’t happen.”
In addition to Learned, the No. 16/15 Bulldogs (16-9-5, 10-8-4 ECAC) received goals from senior forward Jesse Root, senior defender Gus Young, and sophomore Carson Cooper to push the Crimson to the brink of elimination in the best-of-three series. Freshman Yale goaltender Alex Lyon recorded 24 saves for his second shutout in as many starts.
New injuries to freshman forward Luke Esposito and junior center Ryan McGregor forced the Crimson to enter the tournament shorthanded on offense. Donato started all eight of his healthy defensemen in order to fill out Harvard’s fourth line of forwards. On Saturday, the Crimson (10-16-4, 6-12-4) may have to confront more personnel issues after freshman Alex Kerfoot collapsed in pain near the Yale crease midway through the third period and left the game with an apparent upper body injury.
“We pretty much have everybody in that’s healthy, but it’s that time of year,” Donato said. “We could sit there and focus on the guys that aren’t in and aren’t healthy, but the reality is, that had nothing to do with the mistakes that we made."
The hosts used quick skating and crisp passing to capitalize on Harvard’s errors with the puck and take a two-goal lead into the first intermission.
Root struck first for Yale on a breakaway at 7:47 in the opening frame for his team-best 14th goal of the season. Junior defender Matt Killian forced a turnover in the Bulldog zone and forwarded the puck to senior left wing Kenny Agostino, who sprung Root with a one-touch pass at the Harvard blue line. Despite a hook from behind from Harvard senior defender Danny Fick, Root skated around Michalek for the score.
Fick’s hook put Yale on its second power play of the night and allowed the hosts to ride the wave of Root’s goal. As Fick left the box, a scramble developed in front of Michalek. Young stuffed the puck home on a wrap-around attempt to give the Bulldogs a two-goal lead at 9:56.
Early in the second period, Harvard established the Yale zone after a tripping minor to Agostino put the visitors on the man advantage, but the host’s special teams struck again. A clearing attempt from sophomore Yale defender Ryan Obuchowski skipped over the skate of freshman Harvard defender Victor Newell at the blue line and sent Learned off to the races for a coast-to-coast shorthanded goal.
“[The Bulldogs] are really good at capitalizing off our mistakes,” said freshman Harvard forward Sean Malone, who was named co-Ivy League Rookie of the Year alongside Lyon on Friday. “I think tomorrow we’re [going to] jump back here and look at some video and come out with a new game plan and try to beat them.”
Kerfoot went down at 11:42 in the third period and required the assistance of trainers and teammates to skate off the rink. Donato could not provide details on his condition following the game. Cooper tacked on Yale’s fourth of the game with less than four minutes left with a top-shelf wrister that beat Girard glove-side.
Harvard’s best chances to score came in the opening frame, but the Crimson struggled to find the shots to challenge Lyon. The freshman goaltender’s pads smothered an early breakaway opportunity from sophomore forward Jimmy Vesey. In the second period, the Bulldogs limited the Crimson to four shots. Harvard looked disjointed on the offensive side of the rink on a night in which the team occasionally had to skate four defenders at a time, but for Donato, the focus after the game was not on personnel but on execution.
“We need to execute a hell of a lot better,” Donato said. “I don’t think our game plan was to be in full control of the puck and then turn the puck over. Whether that’s strategic or just management of the puck, we know that we can play a lot better, and we’re going to need to.”
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MDLedecky.