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"I had the shot. If it was just a couple of inches to the left, that would have been the difference. That seemed to summarize our weekend in a fifteen-second span."
Junior winger Chris Bala offered that reflection after his gut-wrenching pipe-ringer set off the critical sequence of Saturday's 5-4 loss for the Harvard men's hockey team.
Though freshman center Dominic Moore's tenth career goal with 1:29 to play narrowed Clarkson's lead to one, the final verdict of the game--and the weekend--had already been decided thirty seconds earlier.
With just over two minutes to play in the final stanza, all 2,284 in attendance held their breath as Bala led a four-on-two rush on Clarkson's inexperienced rookie goaltender Karl Mattson. But a little bad luck sent Bala's shot ricocheting off the far post and on to the stick of Golden Knights' winger Adam Campana.
Campana then headed a two-on-one break, dishing the puck to linemate Don Smith, who lit the lamp at 1:58. The stunning strike effectively ended Harvard's chance to salvage any winning percentage points on the weekend.
Smith's goal capped off a complete North Country sweep of the Crimson this year, extending Harvard's ECAC record to a dismal 1-6-1 since the start of the New Year.
Hanging on to a playoff berth by a thread and a shot at home ice by a hair, the ninth-place Crimson has only four games left to secure a post-season spot. And the road ahead, including a trip to Ivy rivals Princeton and Yale, will not be easy.
In fact, judging by the final results--a 4-2 loss to St. Lawrence on Friday and a 5-4 defeat to Clarkson on Saturday--a fair-weather fan may have already given up on Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni's underdog team.
However, the expression "we may have lost the battle, but we won the war" comes to mind. Short of a miracle, the Crimson has no chance of finishing the season at the top of the heap. But Harvard can take a small victory out of its pair of heart-breaking losses.
"We are playing some of our best hockey in a long time," Bala said. "We played two pretty good games and it's unfortunate not to get two wins."
And it didn't just play hard. The Crimson almost upset the No. 9 Saints, who are currently running away with first-place in the ECAC, despite a 6-0 blanking at the hands of Brown on Saturday.
Harvard battled back and came within inches of breaking the Knights' seven-game stranglehold on the lifetime series--Clarkson's longest winning streak ever against the Crimson.
Special teams played a large role in keeping Harvard in the games. Against both the Saints and the Knights, the Crimson had to play catch-up almost immediately.
But a beautiful move by Capouch on the penalty kill against St. Lawrence allowed captain Trevor Allman to tie the score 1-1 on a breakaway on Saints netminder Derek Gustafson at 8:41 in to the first period.
The power play, though not as productive as its numbers indicate, is once again beginning to find its niche after Mazzoleni handed the two extra-man units off to assistant coaches Ron Rolston and Nate Leaman.
Early in the first period against the Saints, it was evident that the Crimson would excel on the power play when pressuring the puck down low.
Harvard was finally rewarded for its efforts 2:22 into the final period when Capouch launched a high shot past Gustafson off a rebound from Bala.
The most impressive improvement for the Crimson was the tight defense, which has been Harvard's Achilles' heel for most of the season.
"We've been focusing a lot on defense in practice," Capouch said. "If we keep the scoring down, we've got a chance to win."
But hockey, just like any other sport, is composed of one part skill, one part effort, and one part luck. Harvard definitely has its fair share of the first two components, but is sorely lacking in the last.
In fact, it was mostly luck that propelled Clarkson, the perennial ECAC champion looking to atone for its uncharacteristically dismal league start, to victory.
"Ron Rolston coached for Clarkson last year and he said that the kid who scored Clarkson's last goal couldn't have done that one in 50 times," Mazzoleni said. "Sometimes you have to be puck-lucky too."
Out-shooting the Saints 34-30 and the Golden Knights 38-31, Harvard cured its ailment and finally started generating numerous scoring opportunities.
And with Mike Noeth officiating the game against Clarkson, one of the more suspect referees in the ECAC, the Crimson's luck dwindled a bit more.
Noeth tagged Dominic Moore and older brother Steve for two 10-minute misconducts, wrongfully whistling Dominic for diving in the first period, and nailing Steve for inappropriate language in the third period. Given Noeth's penchant for poor calls, it came as a surprise that eldest brother Mark was not escorted to the sin bin to give Noeth the Moore misconduct-hatrick.
As the season enters the home stretch, another weekend drop of winning percentage points does not bode well for the Crimson's post-season position. But if last weekend's performance against St. Lawrence and Clarkson is any indication, the Tigers and the Elis are going to have their hands full with Harvard.
Let's just hope that this time around, the frustrating reverberation of the puck striking the crossbar, is replaced by the sweet, soft sound of twine.
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