UPDATED: January 7, 2016, at 10:15 a.m.
Giving power plays to the icemen from Harvard can be dangerous. But handing them 5-on-3s? That’s lethal.
Defending ECAC champion Quinnipiac learned that the hard way Friday night, taking a plethora of penalties early in the second period that provided the nation’s best power play unit with an opportunity to pounce.
Sure enough, the Crimson man advantage struck three times in 44 seconds, including twice on consecutive 5-on-3s, breaking open a one-all game and providing enough cushion for the hosts to skate to a 5-2 victory—their first against the Bobcats since the 2015 postseason.
“We didn’t want to [take penalties], that was part of our game plan,” Quinnipiac associate head coach Bill Riga said. “We lost our heads a little bit, and it got away from us.”
No. 4/3 Harvard (10-2-1, 6-1-1 ECAC) earned its first 5-on-3 after Bobcat co-captain Connor Clifton was called for a slash against Tyler Moy and junior Tanner MacMaster interfered with Ryan Donato 1:22 later. Making matters worse for the visitors, the advantage quickly became more of a 5-on-2.5 after associate captain Tim Clifton lost his stick. Consequently, the Crimson cashed in: freshman Nathan Krusko poked home the go-ahead goal at 5:48, kickstarting what proved to be a career night for the rookie forward.
The goal would be reviewed, but while play came to a halt, the action did not. With the review ongoing, referee Chip McDonald ejected Quinnipiac’s heated head coach, Rand Pecknold, and assessed the Bobcats (11-9-2, 6-5-1) with a two-minute minor for abuse of officials—a rarity by all accounts in college hockey.
That meant another 5-on-3 for Harvard—one that saw co-captain Alexander Kerfoot connect on a back-door pass from Moy at 6:14. Still on a power play because of the residual Pecknold penalty, Krusko tacked on another grinder’s goal right in front of Quinnipiac goaltender Chris Truehl just 18 seconds later, prompting the Bobcats to change netminders with the score 4-1.
“The emotions are always flying high when we play these guys,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “They took a few penalties, we had a few reviews that went our way, and I think we did a good job executing on the power play. That ended up being most of the story of the game.”
“We just capitalized,” Kerfoot added. “We’ve had some trouble against them on the power play in the past; they’ve got a really good penalty kill, and at times we’ve struggled to get it into the zone. Coach did a good job of scouting them and showing us what to do on video.”
The Crimson has now scored multiple power-play goals in five straight games, all wins. Harvard’s conversion clip now stands at 33.3 percent for the season, more than 7 percent better than that of the next best team (Omaha).
In a contest that featured 15 minor penalties, Quinnipiac earned six power-play opportunities over the final 30 minutes. But it was not until Luke Shiplo found twine on the final one with 3:05 remaining in regulation that the visitors began to close the gap.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, however. The Bobcats aggressively had been skating with an extra attacker for five minutes—and through two power plays—by the time Shiplo brought the score to 4-2. But Quinnipiac could not protect its empty net forever. With only six ticks remaining on the clock, Krusko flipped a shot from atop the left circle just inside the near post to secure his first career hat trick.
“Get pucks to the net, and something good will happen,” Krusko said.
Before Krusko helped turn the game in the Crimson’s favor in period two, the Bobcats had chances to change the contest's course early on. Sophomore Thomas Aldworth scored the game’s first goal from the power play at 10:31 in the first period, walking right between two Harvard penalty killers to where he had a clear path towards junior netminder Merrick Madsen.
Other forwards like MacMaster and Tommy Schutt also snuck through the Crimson defense to create “Grade-A” first-period chances, as Ted Donato put it, right in front of Madsen. But the junior made one big stop after another in the period, eventually finishing with a season-high 34 saves.
“That’s about as poor a period as we’ve played as far as the quality of chances we gave up,” Ted Donato said. “I thought we reestablished a little bit of our team identity there in the second and third.”
Senior forward Sean Malone’s team-leading 10th goal of the season—a backhander from Truehl’s left post at 17:01—pushed Harvard into a 1-1 tie heading into the first intermission, setting the stage for the team’s explosion in the middle frame.
The Crimson is now tied for third in the ECAC with Quinnipiac, but with four games in hand. Harvard has two games in hand on Union and St. Lawrence, whom it trails in the standings by four and three points, respectively.
—Despite playing Wednesday and Thursday night in Montreal for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, freshman defenseman Adam Fox did return to the lineup on Friday. Yet behind an emerging grin at the podium, Ted Donato said after the game that it wasn't until about 6 p.m. that Fox "cruised in" to join the team.
Nonetheless Fox, who had the option from Donato to sit out this weekend, said that he had planned to play against Quinnipiac all along. He revealed that his legs probably weren't as fresh as he would normally like but that they did the job. Fox wound up having "an Adam Fox type game" too, according to Ted Donato, picking up two assists in the second period.
—In total, Harvard finished 3-for-7 on the power play, while Quinnipiac finished 2-for-8. Thomas Aldworth's first-period tally for the Bobcats snapped a Crimson streak of 12 consecutive penalties killed.
—After being ejected in the second period, Rand Pecknold did not speak to the media.
—Quinnipiac outshot Harvard, 36-34, while the Crimson out-attempted the Bobcats, 70-68.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.
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