It’s been three years, three games against Maine and three painful losses for the Harvard men’s hockey team, and so there was certainly no lack of Crimson motivation in Saturday night’s latest episode of the Harvard-Black Bear drama.
But with a convincing 4-1 thrashing of No. 11 Maine before a sellout Bright Hockey Center crowd, Harvard (9-3-1, 6-3-1 ECAC) put the past, well, in the past.
“I think it was a very big win,” said Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91, a neophyte in the coaching ranks but well-aware of his squad’s recent history with Maine (10-7-2, 6-3-1 Hockey East) nonetheless.
And how could he not be? It was less than nine months ago, after all, that the Black Bears mounted a four-goal, third-period comeback to send the Crimson packing from the NCAA Tournament. Maine has been responsible for two of Harvard’s last three exits from The Dance.
“I’m not going to lie and say there was no extra motivation,” Donato said.
In fact, he asked, “Did the guys have a little more left in the tank because it was Maine in the third period? Probably. I would hope so. I think when you’re a competitor like our guys are, that’s part of the package.”
And it’s a complete package. The Crimson, winner in nine of 10 tries, improved its home record to 7-0-0 Saturday night with a gritty offense, a stalwart defense and a vintage performance in net by Dov Grumet-Morris.
The senior recorded 39 saves, failing only to stop a lone power-play tally with 68 seconds remaining in the game. And in his most important defensive stand of the night, Grumet-Morris stymied two successive breakaway attempts midway through the third period to preserve his team’s lead and momentum.
“It’s not something that’s that unusual,” he later said, “and [Black Bears goalie Jimmy] Howard made the same saves down at his end, too.”
Howard—widely recognized as one of the nation’s top goaltenders but whom Harvard smoked for four goals last spring—did turn in a fair showing, though his defense let him down on more than one occasion.
“I thought [Grumet-Morris] did great whenever he was tested,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, “but I thought they did an excellent job of giving him chances to succeed.”
On the other hand, Whitehead pointed to blueline failure when describing the first Crimson goal, a Jon Pelle score that found the back of the net after several stabbing rebounds.
“Jimmy made like three saves,” Whitehead said, “and nobody cleared the rebound. He’s not an octopus with eight legs, you know. He’s got two legs. We just have to protect our goalie better. I thought they did that, and we did not. It’s pretty simple.”
Despite Harvard’s obvious edge in clearing rebounds and protecting against screens, the home team was actually outshot 40 to 28. But the Crimson had gained the early momentum, outshooting the Black Bears 13 to 12 in the initial frame, and that would prove crucial.
“There were shifts that we outworked them, but I think for the most part, they outworked us,” Whitehead said. “Especially early, and that’s when most games are won.