Before last night's opener against Northeastern, Harvard hockey coach Billy Cleary greeted each of his players with applause and a slap on the back as they nervously trooped off the ice after the pregame warm-ups.
A little more than two hours later Cleary repeated the ritual, this time with bear hugs and gleeful shouts. The reason for the exponential increase in enthusiasm: the Crimson, led by two goals apiece from freshmen Mark Fusco and Greg Olson, had just trounced a stunned pack of Huskies, 8-2, before 1850 at the Bright Center.
With the possible exception of the team itself, few had expected such a blowout. And after a loosely played first period dominated by sloppiness and missed opportunities on both sides, neither squad was in control.
But Harvard, settling down defensively and using aggressive forechecking to control play in the offensive zone, came up with goals from "old veterans" Mike Watson (a sophomore) and Tom Murray (a junior) and then exploded for four more in a final period that left Northeastern wishing it had never left the cobwebs of Boston Arena.
Surprisingly, the freshmen generated the firepower: five of the eight goals and seven of nine assists came from firstgamers.
Surrounded by well-wishers in a noisy locker-room, Cleary sported a wide, toothy grin as he commended the newcomers for overcoming initial jitters.
Goaltender Wade Lau, who stopped 34 of 36 shots on the night, credited "collective hustle" for this season's auspicious start. "Last year," he said, "we lacked character as a unit. Now we have it and it shows on the ice."
Strangely enough, Northeastern got on the board first, when freshman center Mike Anzivino slipped a rebound past Lau at 2:02 of the first. But Fusco replied with two power play markers--the first a whiffle ball over Huskie netminder Mark Davidner's right shoulder and a low screamer by his right skate.
A second tally from Anzivino left things tied at the end of one, but Harvard took over after that. Watson's spinshot and Murray's wrister after a cute inside move made it 4-2, and then came the one-sided battle of Greg "Not Mitch" Olsen vs. Husky Paul Felipe.
Twice in the first ten minutes of the final period, Felipe, a sophomore defenseman, circled in his own zone with the puck, minding his own business. And then came right winger Olson, hacking away, sneering, annoying, nagging, stealing the puck, scoring, getting mobbed by teammates. In that order. Twice (the second time shorthanded). Felipe could only shake his head.
As the Harvard band added further insult--"sieve, sieve, funnel, funnel, vacuum cleaner" at Davidner and various suggestions for the Northeastern cheerleaders--two Crimson leftwingers put on the evening's finishing touches. First, Jim Turner flipped a low one by Davidner at 12:48 with Harvard a man up, and Rick Benson capped a one-man rush with a successful wrister with 1:05 to go.
Harvard is undefeated. Unbeaten, untied. What could be better? Lau had an idea. "We didn't win two two games in a row all last year," he said, "not once. And we all remember." RPI is next, Saturday night at Bright Center.
Harvard v. Northeastern Alexander H. Bright Center
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