TROY, N.Y.--Just three days before its Beanpot showdown with Boston University, the Harvard men's hockey team went into its game against Rensselaer last night at Houston Field House looking for an impressive road victory.
It didn't get it.
Instead, the second-ranked Crimson (14-2-1, 13-1-1 ECAC) suffered its first league loss of the season, 6-3, to the ninth-ranked Engineers, (12-5-4, 9-3-1 ECAC).
After shooting to an early 3-0 lead in the second period, Harvard watched as RPI scored six unan swered goals in a comeback that will most definitely find its place in RPI hockey lore.
Despite the return of sophomore Steve Martins, Harvard couldn't convert on any of its seven power plays and suffered a devastating second and third period collapse that ruined freshman netminder Tripp Tracy's 8-0 record and snapped the Crimson's 10-game winning streak.
"It was a tough loss," Harvard Coach Ronn Tomassoni said. "We had our chances, but they're a good team and we gave up the puck in out zone at critical times. They were just very opportunistic."
RPI junior Jeff Gabriel had two goals and one assist in the game, scoring the first Engineer goal at 8:13 in the second period and the Engineer's fifth tally at 18:52 of the third.
But the score that hurt Harvard most came 12:35 into the third period when RPI sophomore Eric Petards knocked in the rebound of a Gabriel shot to gave RPI the lead, 4-3.
A penalty on Engineer freshman Brian Richardson about 20 seconds later gave the Crimson hope, but Harvard squandered this opportunity as it did the five before it.
Still, with about 1:30 to play, Harvard got one last golden opportunity to tie the game when senior Steve Homenhoft had a good luck at the net. But his backhand just couldn't find the back of the net.
"Steve had the chance, but his backhander just came up short," Tomassoni said. "You want to win them all, but one loss isn't going to step these guys."
The Crimson has been able to fight off comebacks all season long, but last night Harvard succumbed to an RPI surge that smoldered in the second period and exploded in the final stanza.
And if weren't for the gutsy performance of Tracy (27 saves), Harvard would have been in a bigger hole coming out of the second period.
"We sit on our leads, and we can't do that," senior Matt Mallgrave said. "We took too many penalties and we didn't have that killer instinct. We can beat a team like that, but we need the killer instinct."
In the beginning, the game looked to be another easy Harvard victory.