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Albany, NY— It's supposed to be just an energy line—those on it are not even expected to score. Yet, on Friday, Harvard's fourth line was its most impressive one of the night.
The Crimson trio of senior Aaron Kim, junior Rob Fried and freshman Dan Murphy provided far more than just intense play Friday, setting up Harvard’s first goal and at times dominating in the offensive zone, even against Dartmouth's top lines.
“Sometimes you wish you could get the rest of the team to play the way your fourth line does,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “They don't get a lot of ice time, but they do every thing to a T that you ask of them, and they have success.”
The emergence of the Crimson fourth line has given Harvard depth it simply didn't have a year ago. Last season at playoff time the Crimson’s fourth line didn't leave the bench—Mazzoleni could only trust his top three lines against high-caliber competition, risking fatigue as game after game went into overtime.
Now, he counts on his energy players to kill off penalties. Kim, perhaps Harvard’s most bountiful source of intensity, currently joins Fried on one of the Crimson’s penalty-killing units. That means two of the three members of Harvard's fourth line are entrusted to tackle the opposition's top skaters, all while down a man. Kim and Fried have not disappointed—Harvard has not allowed a power-play goal in 13 chances.
“I thought they were outstanding,” Mazzoleni said. “They were physical, they generated offense and they played great team defense.”
(Hopefully) Staying Hip
After missing last weekend’s quarterfinal series against Vermont, sophomore forward Brendan Bernakevitch made an impact in his first game back. Bernakevitch—who in the regular-season finale re-aggravated a hip flexor injury that originally had caused him to miss four games—scored the game-winning goal and played solidly all night.
Bernakevitch’s tally, a power-play goal, came at 7:59 in the second. Bernakevitch skated into the zone at Dartmouth goaltender Nick Boucher’s left side. Drawing coverage, he skated with the puck down toward the low boards and circled back, gaining separation from his Big Green shadow. With some space, Bernakevitch was able to fire a wrister by Boucher to make the score 4-1 and send Boucher to the showers.
Although his goal came on the power play, instead of with standard linemates junior Tim Pettit and sophomore Tom Cavanagh, the impact Bernakevitch made with that duo was evident in his return.
“Having Brendan back really impacted our team. He really completes that line,” Mazzoleni said. “Even now Brendan’s not 100%, but he does a lot of good things out there. Pettit, Cavanagh and Bernakevitch really play off each other very well.”
And for Harvard to continue to play very well in the postseason, it will need the Pettit-Cavanagh-Bernakevitch triumvirate to be in the lineup every game.
Tracking the Top Flight
One of the biggest concerns for the Crimson entering tonight’s semifinal was the strong play of Dartmouth’s top line.
With freshmen Hugh Jessiman and Mike Ouellette and sophomore Lee Stempniak, that line is composed entirely of 30-plus point scorers. Stempniak and Jessiman stand amongst the ECAC scoring leaders with 49 and 46 points, respectively.
Add to those numbers the speed of Stempniak and Ouellette and the size (6’5) of Jessiman, and the Big Green’s first line presents a serious challenge to opposing teams.
Because that trio accounts for so much of Dartmouth’s offense, Mazzoleni wanted to try to contain it with his own top line, the one he also believes plays the best defense.
“We had to have that matchup,” Mazzoleni said. “[Senior] Brett [Nowak] is [one of] our two best center icemen, and [junior] Dennis Packard and [sophomore] Robbie Flynn are big and strong on the wall and they can handle those type of people.”
After being contained for most of the game, Dartmouth’s powerful trio did manage to score the team’s second goal—although it came when the Novak line wasn’t on the ice.
“I thought our [first-line kids] played real well,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “I wasn’t concerned about the match.”
Gaudet was more concerned with Harvard’s defensive pairings than its defensive forward line. The Crimson’s top blue-line duo—sophomore Noah Welch and freshman Peter Hafner—has the size and speed to match up with Jessiman and company.
“Hafner and Welch—they’re both pretty good,” Gaudet said. “Noah masks a lot of deficiencies others have on the ice.”
And holding Dartmouth’s talented young forwards to one goal is a pretty good start to the ECAC Championship weekend.
Red Storm Rising
Last year, Harvard entered the ECAC finals as a Cinderella. This year, the Crimson was expected to return to the championship game. But two things remain the same—the Big Red is waiting, and not many people think Harvard will win.
While the Crimson barely held off Dartmouth's late surge, Cornell made the Brown offense disappear on Friday, holding the Bears to 11 shots on goal—and just one in the first period—in a smothering 2-0 win.
“They play defense like no other team out there,” Mazzoleni said.
Although the Big Red swept the season series this year, Harvard has shown signs that it is more than capable of pulling off the upset. The Crimson played Cornell much closer in Ithaca than the score indicated and it dominated the final two periods of its 4-3 home loss in February. The three goals Harvard scored in the final two periods were more than any team has notched in an entire game against Big Red goaltender David LeNeveu since November.
But Harvard lost that game because it wasn't ready when the puck dropped. The Crimson played with too much emotion in the first period, letting the Big Red score three times before the game was ten minutes old.
“There's no margin for error when you play a team as good as Cornell,” captain Dominic Moore said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to avoid a start like that one tomorrow night.”
Yet, Harvard won last year when it mattered most, in the ECAC Finals. The Crimson beat Cornell 4-3 in double-overtime on a Tyler Kolarik goal, earning its first NCAA berth since 1994. That game haunts the Big Red faithful to this day, and a repeat performance will erase any memories of those regular season defeats for Harvard. But Kolarik may not be able to repeat his heroics—he is questionable with a shoulder injury suffered last Friday against Vermont.
The two rivals will battle for the title at 7 p.m. on Saturday. NESN will televise the game live.
—Staff writer Elijah M. Alper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Timothy M. McDonald can be reached at email@example.com.
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