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It certainly looked a lot like the Harvard-B.C. rivalry of years past, as the Crimson played to its first sellout crowd of the year at Bright Hockey Center Saturday night.
However, relative inexperience and one questionable call by the officials robbed the Harvard men's hockey team (4-2-1, 4-1-1 ECAC) of its first legitimate chance for Beantown bragging rights in quite some time.
The No. 4 Eagles (11-3-0, 5-1-0 Hockey East) earned a stunning come- from-behind victory over the Crimson, stealing a 3-2 with a goal by Chuck Kobasew at 1:37 of overtime.
"We had the lead for a little while, and then inexperience took over," assistant captain Chris Bala said. "We need to battle through that kind of adversity."
But no amount of hard work and tenacity can reverse the kinds of calls that can outright change the outcome of a hockey game.
At 6:42 in the first period, sophomore center Dominic Moore took advantage of a B.C. turnover on its power play and flew down the ice, flanked by junior assistant captain Peter Capouch. Moore dished across the slot to Capouch, who batted the puck across the line. But officials claimed the puck did not cross the line, denying Capouch his fourth goal of the season and Harvard a potential victory.
The Crimson overcame this turn of bad luck and watched eagerly as sophomore center Brett Nowak and Bala teamed up to produce the Crimson's first go-ahead goal of the night.
Nowak drove hard to the boards behind the net and battled two B.C. defensemen for control of the puck. He emerged to Eagles' goaltender Scott Clemmensen's right and slid a pass to Bala on the doorstep. In a textbook play, Bala backhanded the shot past Clemmensen for a 2-1 lead at 10:47 of the third.
"Nowak found me there, waiting out front," Bala said. "The puck just found it's way in there."
Although Bala thought he had secured the upset for his team, the win was not in the cards. B.C. Coach Jerry York had one more ace up his sleeve.
With Clemmensen on the bench and just over a minute left to play, the Eagles' finally cashed in on a man-advantage, something their dominant power play unit--currently topping Hockey East at about 25 percent--failed to do in six chances on the night.
B.C. winger Mike Lephart took a beautiful pass from Ben Eaves in front of the net, and let loose a wrister shot that evened the score at two apiece with 42 seconds to play, and forced the game into extra minutes.
"It was a one-on-one, and a guy got beat off the wall," Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said. "It's something that shouldn't happen. Unfortunately, that decided the game."
Energized by the equalizer, the Eagles rode their momentum straight to victory. Only 1:37 in to overtime, Kobasew blasted a one-timer past senior netminder Oliver Jonas to net the game-winning tally.
Considering that the Crimson posted a rather anemic offense during the first period, the gritty comeback in the second and third was quite a feat. The Eagles' danced around an average Harvard defense and simply showered Jonas with shots, posting 22 attempts, compared to a meager 8 from the Crimson.
"I thought for the first period it was we stood and we watched them," Mazzoleni said. "I think the shots were pretty indicative of that."
Despite the flurry of offense from a lightening-fast B.C. squad, only one shot managed to slip past Jonas, who turned in another stellar performance and a career-high 44 saves on the night.
Eagles' captain Brian Gionta, who celebrated his 100th career goal Tuesday night, sent a pass from behind the net to Lephart, poised at the crease. Lephart batted the puck past Jonas to light the lamp first at 18:04 in the opening period.
As Harvard turned on the intensity in the middle stanza, both sides reached a boiling point and racked up a number of minor penalties, for a total of 35 minutes, as a result. Sophomore defenseman Aaron Kim let his temper get the best of him halfway through the second, and earned himself a five-minute major for spearing and a game disqualification.
Not only did the physical play help the Crimson balance out the scoring chances in the second, with each team posting only 7 shots apiece, but Harvard clearly garnered the majority of quality scoring opportunities, especially short-handed.
Freshman Kenny Turano found himself in the right place at the right time, and eliminated the Eagles' lead with a wrister in one fell swoop, notching his first collegiate goal at 8:53 in the second.
And in rapid succession, Bala and Moore found themselves with nothing but ice between them and Clemmensen. Bala wheeled down the ice with two defensemen on his tail with just under four minutes to play in the period, but couldn't put away a hard shot from the slot.
"That was one of the marquee college games of the year," York said. "If that happened in the Beanpot, we would be talking about it forever."
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