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There's no doubt about it--the Harvard men's hockey team desparately needed to come out strong After last year's sub-par 14-14-2 (12-9-1 ECAC) season, the Crimson needed to prove to its fans and the doubting critics that it was back.
While Saturday night was only an exhibition contest, the team seems to have done just that. Harvard earned a 4-3 victory over Acadia in a contest that showcased not only Crimson senior leadership, but also promising freshman additions.
The Axemen came to Bright Hockey Center after an impressive 22-1-3 season last year and an exhibition win against Brown on Friday. Staying true to its name, the Axemen played a heavy hitting, physical style and racked up 94 penalty minutes in just 60 minutes of play.
"They're not as quick as some of the American teams," Canadian native and Harvard freshman Ben Storey said. "Most of the players are a lot older than the guys from our team, so it's more of a chippier game."
Harvard had no lasting complaints, however.
Given all the penalties, the Crimson found good opportunities to work out its power-play units. Last year, Harvard's power play was so unproductive that the team was almost better off declining the man advantages.
This time, things were different.
With captain Brad Konik at the point and towering freshman Craig MacDonald positioned in front of the net, Harvard was able to convert on two critical power-play opportunities.
"I thought Brad played very well at the point," Tomassoni said. "He's got a lot of poise, sees the ice really well and is a shooting threat. He really kind of settles everyone down out there."
That was most evident when Harvard converted with only three minutes left in the first period. Sophomore Geordie Hyland blasted a shot from the right point where freshman Craig Adams was waiting to tip the puck into the back of the net. This goal brought the bench to its feet and gave Harvard a needed lift and a 2-1 lead.
"I thought the freshman all did well," Tomassoni said. "It was nice to see Craig Adams get his first goal--a nice tip on a power play."
Adams's tally capped a hectic sequence that saw three goals scored in a span of 3:50.
With only seven minutes remaining in the first period, senior Harvard winger Geb Marett broke through the Acadia defense and slid the puck right underneath the pads of goalie Greg Scott. Less than a minute later, Acadia senior Sean O'Reilly released a shot from the point right after a face-off, stunning and beating senior Harvard goalie Tripp Tracy.
The second period saw penalty after penalty after penalty, and one Acadia goal as well. O'Reilly lifted the puck over Tracy's shoulder with a man draped on his back.
The third period, however, was indicative of the entire flow of the game. Replete with a plethora of penalty minutes--including one game misconduct against the Axemen--the back-and-forth action continued.
Freshman Clayton Rodgers was robbed on a diving save by Scott from right in front of the net, and Adams ripped a shot off the crossbar.
But Harvard wouldn't be denied forever. Spearheaded by the senior line of Konik, Tommy Holmes and Kirk Nielsen, Harvard outshot (14-4) and outscored (2-1) Acadia in the final stanza.
With the chippy Axemen down a player due to unsportsmanlike conduct, Konik broke down the right side. He threaded a beautiful lead pass to a streaking Nielsen, who guided the puck past a helpless Scott to give Harvard a 3-2 lead.
Five minutes later, this same tandem along with Holmes combined for the game-winning goal. From the far right corner, Nielsen--after receiving a pass from Holmes--centered the puck, which deflected off an Acadian foot and ricocheted into the net to give the Crimson the definitive 4-3 lead.
"That winning goal showed the leadership of the senior class," Tomassoni said. "The line of Konik, Nielsen, and Holmes was working real hard deep in he corner--that's what caused the goal."
On the other side of the ice, freshman goalie Peter Zakowich, who played the third period, was forced to come up with four huge saves, one of which occurred with less than a minute left in the game.
With the Acadia goalie pulled out of net, Zakowich came out of the crease and cleared the puck out of the zone, allowing the game clock to expire while preserving the Crimson victory.
"Zakowich in particular played a real solid third period," Tomassoni said. "He made a real big play at the end of the game--a real heads-up play."
With a healthy mix of youth and experience, the Crimson players made a strong statement after the first exhibition game--they are back and ready for the season.
"I think that we did a lot of good things out there," Nielsen said. "We were all pretty happy with the overall performance."
The players are hoping that the performance against Acadia was a premonition of the coming season. The true test, however, won't come until next weekend against Brown.
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