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Between the Beanpot and this weekend, the Harvard men's hockey team found all the ingredients it was lacking over the past month. It played tight defense, generated scoring chances, and even moved the puck well at times on the power play.
The only thing missing was a victory.
Harvard extended its ECAC winless to seven games getting swept by No. 9 St. Lawrence, 4-2, on Friday night and by Clarkson, 5-4, on Saturday at Bright Hockey Center.
"To be the type of team we want to be sometimes you have to experience failure," Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said. "I couldn't have asked the team to play any harder than they did."
The biggest boon came from the newly formed line of captain Trevor Allman, junior Chris Bala, and freshman Brett Nowak. The trio combined for three goals--two for Allman and one for Bala. Nowak, with an assist on Allman's goal against the Golden Knights, notched his first point since Nov. 27 against Brown.
For the weekend, the defense held sophomore center Brandon Dietrich of the Saints and Clarkson junior winger Eric Cole--each team's top gun--to one point, a secondary assist for Cole on Clarkson's fourth goal. Earlier this season, both players victimized the Crimson in the North Country.
"We had a much better week of practice, and were well prepared," Bala said. "We were committed to our defensive zone coverage."
Despite the vastly improved effort, the losses sink the Crimson to ninth place in the conference, with a .412 winning percentage. This sets up a critical road trip to Princeton and Yale next weekend.
Both teams are directly ahead of the Crimson in the standings and another double dunce would all but guarantee a long bus ride to the first round of the playoffs.
Clarkson 5, Harvard 4
Trailing 4-3 with almost two minutes left in the third, Bala led a four-on-two rush down the left wing. Maneuvering around the defenseman, he noticed freshman goalie Karl Mattson way out of position, and launched a slapshot that clanged off the far post.
The puck bounced directly to Clarkson winger Adam Campana, observing the Crimson rush from the blueline, who turned and led a two-on-one break the other way with center Don Smith. Senior goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo played the shot, but Smith one-timed Campana's centering pass into the vacant half of the net for a 5-3 lead at 18:02.
"I had the shot, " Bala said. "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."
Harvard, however, did not quit and with Prestifilippo pulled and just 1:31 left in the game, freshman center Dominic Moore knocked home a rebound off his brother, junior center Steve Moore's, wristshot to pull the Crimson within one.
Harvard swarmed around Mattson for the next 90 seconds, but could never catch another break. Mattson left several alluring rebounds throughout his 34 save performance; few reached a Crimson stick.
"Sometimes you have to be puck-lucky," Mazzoleni said. "Face it, there is luck in sports. They seem to throw it on goal and it bounces in, where we hit three posts and we're hammering the puck from the middle of the slot, and get nothing."
Lady Luck first showed her affection for the Golden Knights just 4:49 into the first period. Assistant captain Carl Drakensjo wristed a rebound end-over-end that struck Prestifilippo, but then flopped over his shoulder and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Allman converted a nice pass from Nowak at 5:07 to tie the game, 1-1, but sophomore defenseman Carl Manzano's power play goal at 13:07 gave Clarkson a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Golden Knights quickly expanded their lead to 3-1 on another fluky goal at 2:42 of the second period. Standing almost on the goal line to the right of Prestifilippo, defenseman Chris Bahen sent a shot on net that angled awkwardly off the netminder.
Bala sliced the lead in half exactly two minutes later, finishing a three-on-two rush. Trailing the play behind Allman, the captain drew off a defender and dropped a pass for Bala, who one-timed it top shelf.
Clarkson winger David Evans made the score 4-2 with another power play goal at 9:07, but with twenty seconds to go in the period, it was the Crimson's turn to strike with the man advantage.
Although Harvard had excellent puck possession in its earlier man-ups, this sequence was marked by incredibly sloppy play riddled with several non-calls by referee Mike Noeth. Through all the din, junior winger Harry Schwefel skated the puck over the blueline and beat Mattson on a slapshot.
"It was definitely a strange night," Dominic Moore said. "But that's the way the cookie crumbles. One thing we have to take out of this is confidence."
Augmenting the frustration of the mercurial motion of the puck was the officiating of Noeth, who worked Friday's game as well.
At 13:50 of the first period, Noeth whistled Dominic Moore for an extremely dubious ten-minute misconduct for diving. With 1:03 left in the game and Harvard pressing for the tie, he whistled dead a Crimson odd man rush, ruling that senior winger Scott Turco--not part of the break--had left the bench too soon as Prestifilippo vacated the net.
Steve Moore also received a ten-minute misconduct for making inappropriate comments to Noeth at 16:47 of the second period.
Prestifilippo made 26 saves in defeat, dropping his career record against the Golden Knights to 1-8-0. The senior class' lone win over Clarkson, a 5-4 triumph on Dec. 7, 1996 at Bright, came when they were freshmen.
St. Lawrence 4, Harvard 2
But it took an opportunistic offense and the red-hot goaltending of freshman Derek Gustafson to secure St. Lawrence a 4-2 win. Gustafson, who boasted a 2.02 goals against average and a .941 save percentage entering the contest, made 32 saves in the triumph.
"We played very, very well," Mazzoleni said. " It came down to one goal on a mishandle. Territorially, we controlled the game, but we didn't finish our opportunities."
Ahead 2-1 in the second, senior defenseman Dale Clark netted the game-winning goal at 18:40. It looked like winger Robin Carruthers was attempting to feed Charlie Daniels in the low slot, but the pass went behind him right to the charging stick of Clarke, who rifled it through a screen past Prestifilippo.
St. Lawrence outscored Harvard 2-1 in the second period, but only because Gustafson made 15 saves compared to Prestifilippo's six. The Crimson pressure did not pay off until 2:22 of the third period on the power play.
Bala took a pass from the corner and Gustafson made a spectacular sliding save, closing the five-hole on a sure-goal. Fortunately, the rebound popped out to sophomore defenseman Peter Capouch, who lifted the puck over the prone goalie to cut the Saints lead to 3-2.
Harvard though would prove unable to duplicate the feat despite taking 14 mainly high quality shots in the final period.
"We felt Harvard would be a team to be reckoned with coming off the Beanpot [3-1 win over Northeastern]," St. Lawrence Coach Joe Marsh said. "Gustafson was solid for us again. It was a good road win."
Gustafson robbed Turco at the end of a flurry of four Harvard shots with 13:14 left in the game. A power play generated from that sequence saw another three good Crimson chances down low, especially one by Dominic Moore, but to no avail.
Harvard thought it had scored at 9:01 of the third, but the goal was disallowed due to a Crimson crease violation. St. Lawrence had one nullified in the first period for the same infraction.
"The most important thing is to capitalize on our chances," said Turco, whose ice time has drastically increased as one of the Crimson's most consistent forwards. "I had one great opportunity, but it didn't go in."
Down 1-0 on a first period goal by center Erik Anderson, Allman tied the game with a rare Harvard shorthanded goal. Capouch nudged the puck forward to the captain, who broke in all alone, deking once and pinpointing the puck inside the far post at 8:41 of the second.
The Saints promptly snuffed out any momentum from Allman's strike. Ten seconds later, Carruthers backhanded a pass on the doorstep from freshman winger Mike Gellard over a sliding Prestifilippo to recapture the lead.
"We're improving as a team," Dominic Moore said. "We played 60 minutes both nights almost entirely as one. Despite the 0-2 record, we're happy with the strides we've taken."
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