Longtime fans of Minnesota-Duluth will tell you that of the hundreds of collegiate hockey games the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center has ever hosted, the best one may have come on December 30, 1982.
The Harvard men's hockey team dueled the home Bulldogs right down to the wire, losing a 3-2 contest in which only three penalties were called and the action at both ends was fiercely contested.
Last night's Harvard-UMD game at the DECC must have eliminated any and all thoughts of such excellence.
Billed as an exciting, end-to-end contest between two explosive offenses, penalties, defensive clutch-and-grab play and great goaltending helped the Bulldogs seal a 3-0 shutout upset over the highly-favored Crimson.
"Let's face it--we didn't play very well," a disappointed Harvard Coach Ronn Tomassoni said after the game. "We came out flat, and we stayed flat.
"Obviously UMD heard that we were a fast-skating team, and they felt that they couldn't keep up with us; I thought that they did a very good job of congesting us all over the ice. But you're gonna play teams like that, ECAC or not, and you've gotta fight your way through, something we just didn't do tonight."
Duluth goalie Taras Lendzyk stopped all 31 shots against, dealing seventh-ranked Harvard its first shutout defeat since a 4-0 loss at St. Lawrence on February 29, 1992. (How far removed must last weekend's 12-1 win over Yale seem?)
The Crimson falls to 6-3-1 (6-2-1 ECAC) on the year, while the Bulldogs move up to 5-9-3 (3-8-3 WCHA).
Poor Tripp Tracy; the sophomore Crimson netminder again turned in a solid 26-save outing only to be defeated by a goalie who played at a level well above what his recent form might have suggested. Coming into the game, Lendzyk had a 3.81 goals-against-average, and with the win, Lendzyk's record improves only to 5-7-2.
"I thought Tripp played very well--he kept us in reach all night," Tomassoni said. "But he's had such bad luck in facing what seems like a hot goaltender every night."
Certainly, Tracy had to face the tougher rubber on the night, and neither his defense nor his offense were much of a help. The vaunted Harvard power play, coming into the evening at a 31 percent success rate, drew a blank in five attempts, and the blue-liners had trouble moving the puck out of the Harvard zone all night.
The first stanza saw the Crimson put only five shots on Lendzyk, its lowest one-period shot total of the year, losing faceoffs and committing the kinds of dumb penalties which Tomassoni has said Harvard just can't afford to take.
And the only goal of the first period came on a Duluth power play; Rusty Fitzgerald fed senior captain Chris Marinucci in a wide-open slot, who dumped the puck under Tracy with only 14 seconds to play in the period.
Only one goal in the second--it too a direct result of poor Harvard play in its own end. A defensive turnover put the puck right on Brad Federenko's stick; he drove through the slot and muscled past Tracy 4:36 into the period, and although the Crimson outshot UMD 14-6, the better chances continued to fall for the Bulldogs.
And another power play goal was the result, three minutes into the third. Junior defenseman Brett Larson rocketed a point shot at the 2:18 mark past a screened Tracy, who seemed to complain after the play that he had been interfered with in the crease.