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Well, it was an exhibition game after all--and a good thing that it was.
Saturday night's demonstration at Bright Hockey Center was for the most part slow-developing and chippy. It wasn't really Harvard's fault--the players did their darned best to impress the fans and coaches.
Rather, blame the penalty-marred contest on the bunch of butchers from Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The Acadia Axemen (appropriately named) were called for no fewer than 94 minutes in penalties, more than a minute-and-a-half per minute played.
The hackers took 10 stick-related fouls and earned five 10-minute misconducts for bad behavior and one game misconduct to a player who--frustrated with the outcome and the officiating--slashed at and slammed the door to the players' bench with only seven seconds left.
Despite this childish behavior from a team whose players are on average several years older than the Crimson players, the focus on Saturday night should be placed on the Harvard side. So here goes.
*The seniors exhibited strong play and leadership. Geb Marett scored Harvard's first goal, and Kirk Nielsen netted the final two, including the game-winner.
Good things come to players who work hard, and Nielsen was rewarded with one of the oddest goals of his life when his centering pass from the left corner deflected off an Acadian defender into the goal. However, the Crimson wouldn't have scored had Nielsen and his senior linemates Tommy Holmes and captain Brad Konik not managed to forecheck and keep the puck in the Axemen zone for the previous 20 seconds.
*The freshmen also put in solid performances (see related story), as Craig Adams tipped in Harvard's second goal, and goalie Peter Zakowich closed the door on the Axemen in the final minutes.
*Junior defenseman Ashlin Halfnight was back to his vintage offensive form, weaving in and out of the Acadia defense and drawing power plays.
*Sophomore Ethan Philpott looked very comfortable out on the ice, adding size to the lineup. At 6'4" and 229 pounds, he can pretty much scare the opposition off the puck, and he helped set up Adams's tally.
*The specialty teams--one of Harvard's weak links last season--had plenty of time to get used to each other. With 14 power plays to work with, Harvard's two new main units acquired crucial game-time experience. While they only scored twice, the puck movement provides hope for the upcoming season.
And the penalty killing units were perfect, shutting down Acadia on its eight power-play attempts, including one two-man shorthanded situation in the first period.
*While Harvard only allowed 23 shots on goal against, it should be concerned about the quality of some of them. Harvard was pitiful on four-on-four situations, allowing two breakaways and two two-on-one chances against, two of which led to Acadia goals.
*Discipline. Sure, it's tough not to retaliate when the opposition does its Lizzy Borden impersonation on you, but Harvard did cost itself three power plays by retaliating after a whistle or committing penalties in the offensive zone while on the man advantage.
*Inability to hold leads. Harvard blew a one-goal lead three times in the game. In itself, that isn't the worst thing, but what is troubling is that two of those letdowns occurred 90 seconds or less after Harvard had gone on top.
*Second- and third-chance opportunities against. One of Harvard's problems from last season was its inability to clear the puck out of its zone, and it had some of those lapses again Saturday night, especially in the third period.
Despite those problems, Harvard found a way to win and everyone contributed. The game wasn't pretty, but it should serve as a good lesson for the icemen, whose real season begins Saturday night at Brown.
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