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The Harvard men's hockey team exited the weekend holding on to first place by the same one point that it entered. But its grip seems much tighter now.
The Crimson rebounded from its dismal performance at the Mariucci Classic over Christmas break to split the weekend, beating Yale 3-2 on Friday before dropping 4-2 to Princeton on Saturday at Bright Hockey Center.
Despite the loss, Harvard (7-8-1, 6-4-1 ECAC) put together two of its most complete performances of the season in tight, extremely physical battles against its rivals.
Though the Crimson's hold on first place is still precarious with six teams within four points, the strong outings against top contenders legitimized its top standing. And it indicated that Harvard will not fade as the second half of the season begins.
"If you look at the ECAC, it's so close, I don't know who's in first," Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said.
Princeton 4, Harvard 2
With the game knotted at two and less than four minutes remaining in regulation, sophomore forward Brad Parsons silenced the Bright Hockey Center with one snap of the wrist to help the Tigers on their way to a 4-2 victory.
Taking a feed at the blueline from junior forward Chris Corrinet, Parsons eluded a haphazard Harvard backcheck and then split the Crimson defense with a sudden burst of speed.
Walking in untouched on senior goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo, Parsons wristed a quick snapshot past the goalie's outstretched blocker putting the Tigers up for good.
"It was a tough loss for us," Mazzoleni said. "We knew it was a significant game and we played hard. It was a scrappy game that came down to a couple bounces here and there. There were just a pair of bad breaks against us."
With time waning on the clock, Harvard mounted a furious attack around the Princeton net, but was unable to find the equalizer, thanks in part to a dubious call by referee Fred Campatelli.
After calling only a single penalty all period despite several late hits and unscheduled free-for-alls around the net after the whistle, it appeared as though Campatelli was willing to let both teams settle their differences on the ice.
But with only 2:21 remaining in the third, Campatelli found a new pair of spectacles and whistled Crimson senior forward Brett Chodorow for goaltender interference after Chodorow appeared to accidentally nip the Princeton goaltender's stick while skating around the net.
Despite being down a man, junior winger Chris Bala nearly pulled a miracle out his hat with a shorthanded breakaway.
But after Bala was stoned by sophomore goaltender Dave Stathos, the Crimson's hopes were dashed for good after junior winger Steve Moore failed to connect on a juicy rebound that was floating precariously in the air in front of Stathos.
With the ensuing faceoff deep in the Princeton zone, Harvard pulled its goalie to even it up at five-skaters a-piece. But Princeton junior forward Ethan Doyle potted an empty net goal at 18:58 from center ice to seal the victory.
"They got a powerplay and we had to score at that time," Mazzoleni said. "We tried to create the offense we wanted but it just didn't work."
Despite the Tiger's two late goals, Harvard controlled the tempo of the game in the third period, out shooting Princeton 17-5.
Down 2-1 after two, Harvard came out hitting in third and had a number of chances to find the equalizer early in the third.
With emotions running high after Princeton senior forward Benoit Morin drilled senior winger Matt Macleod from behind after the whistle, captain Trevor Allman found sweet revenge on the ensuing play.
Redirecting a point shot from senior defenseman Matt Scorsune, Allman poked the shot through the five-hole of Stathos who was coming out to cut the angle.
"Emotions were high on both teams," Allman said. "It's a strong rivalry and we had to do something. Off the forecheck we worked hard and I redirected it in from the point."
Less than a minute after Allman's equalizer, the Crimson had a golden opportunity to take the lead when Princeton sophomore forward David Del Monte dumped Allman in front of the net.
On the ensuing power play, Macleod stepped in from the right wing, drew the goaltender out of the net faking left and then going the opposite way, but could not get a handle on the puck to finish the play.
Macleod's fancy stick work, however, was characteristic of the Crimson's troubles all evening.
Despite out hitting the Tigers and showing signs of brilliance at times, the Crimson could not capitalize on its opportunities, especially in the first period when it took 12 mostly high quality shots.
"We're not a run and gun team," Mazzoleni said. "We had our opportunities and had to keep pecking away, but we didn't capitalize on a lot of our second chance opportunities."
Despite owning Princeton in the first and the third, just like on the third goal momentary lapses cost Harvard in the second period.
After senior forward Scott Turco tied the game at one on a goal assisted by sophomore forwards Kyle Clark and Derek Nowak, Princeton answered back late in the second on a bizarre goal from junior forward Kirk Lamb.
After Macleod and Allman missed a terrific opportunity to net a shorthanded goal on a two-on-one that could have given the Crimson the lead, junior winger Chris Corrinet turned the game around with a long lead pass from behind his own net to Lamb who was waiting at the Crimson blueline.
Lamb walked in all alone and fired a shot that barley trickled between the legs of Prestifilippo to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead from which they never looked back.
"They were opportunistic tonight and they capitalized," Allman said. "To win we've just got to get it in deep and work hard."
Harvard 3, Yale 2
In a rough, physical game, Harvard produced one of its most consistent efforts of the year, netting a goal in each period to top Yale (7-5-2, 5-3-2), 3-2 in front of a crowd of 2,801--its largest of the season.
"This was as exciting a game as I've seen since I've been here," Mazzoleni said.
Freshman center Dominic Moore broke a 2-2 deadlock at 6:44 of the third period, taking the puck down the right wing and blowing past Bulldog defenseman Bryan Freeman. He moved in on sophomore goalie Dan Lombard, who tried to stack the pads, but Moore flipped up the puck and it found its way home for his team leading eighth goal.
"I got the puck and I caught the defenseman flat footed," Moore said. "I took a shot and it got deflected. I batted it in, or it went in before I batted it."
Moore's goal regained the lead for Harvard, which had been up 2-0. Yale tied the score 1:26 into the third when wide open senior winger Paul Lawson banged home a diagonal cross ice pass just to the right of Prestifilippo.
Referee Scott Hansen gave the Elis a huge assist on their first goal, whistling Harvard for two highly questionable penalties to put the Crimson two men down.
Senior winger Jeff Brow one-timed a shot at 7:48 of the second just above the right faceoff circle off a pass from the junior Ben Stafford that Prestifilippo had difficulty picking up through a screen.
"[The Yale comeback] was just one of those things we had to deal with," sophomore defenseman Peter Capouch said. "We fought through it."
Harvard hung tight, executing its system very well throughout the game. Mazzoleni had switched his forecheck from a 1-3-1 trap to a more aggressive 2-2-1 system, which produced more turnovers and kept the pressure on the Bulldog forwards.
Yale did not have many great scoring chances on the night until the final ten minutes of the game when Prestifilippo made some spectacular saves. His best may have come with less than forty seconds left in the game when he robbed a lightning quick Brow shot from just in front of the crease through traffic.
By the end of the game, Harvard's defense may have been tiring somewhat. Mazzoleni dressed just five defenseman with freshman winger Brett Nowak, fresh from the World Junior Championships, taking the final spot as a spare forward. The blueliners rotated their shifts, skating with different partners each time on the ice.
Mazzoleni said that the sixth defenseman was kept out of the lineup for disciplinary reasons and wouldn't comment any further.
Prestifilippo made 27 saves on the night, as did Lombard.
"You had to focus on short shifts and conserving energy anyway you could," Capouch said. "It wasn't really too bad though."
Despite the two-man advantage, Hansen swallowed his whistle for the most part, allowing a lot of clutching, grabbing, and hooking to go unpenalized. The acrimony of the Harvard-Yale rivalry was on full display Friday.
Still, the Crimson had superb special teams, opening the scoring with its first shorthanded goal of the season. Steve Moore forced a turnover in the neutral zone and took the puck down the ice on a two-on-two rush. Unable to pass the puck, he cut to the slot. His shot was blocked, but Capouch, trailing the play, knocked in the rebound at 10:09 of the first.
Harvard took a 2-0 lead at 1:14 of the second period on the power play. Sophomore winger Jeff Stonehouse slid the puck over to Scorsune at the center point whose shot deflected off a Bulldog defender past Lombard.
Harvard now prepares for the dreaded trip to the North Country to face St. Lawrence and Clarkson this weekend. The Golden Knights, ranked No. 5 nationally before the season, are doing their best impression of the 1998-99 Crimson and have yet to win an ECAC game.
Captain Trevor Allman played in his 100th career game Friday against Yale.
Brett Nowak played both nights this weekend despite Mazzoleni's indication that he might rest him after playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Nowak picked up one point in the tournament, assisting on a power play goal in a 1-1 draw with Team Canada on New Year's Eve. The Americans finished a surprising fourth, dropping to Canada, 4-3 in the bronze medal game.
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