MINNEAPOLIS—Now that is one healthy lump of coal.
Relegated to the consolation round of the Dodge Holiday Classic one day earlier, the No. 10 Harvard men's hockey team was dealt a stunning upset yesterday at Mariucci Arena courtesy of Merrimack, which decisively downed the Crimson, 6-4. The loss, only Harvard's second since Nov. 12, snapped the Crimson's six-game unbeaten streak.
"We weren't sharp mentally today," Harvard coach Ted Donato '91 said of his flu-ridden squad. "And that's what cost us more. I think physically we were a little bit more there than we were [Wednesday], but mentally we just didn't do the things we needed to do to be successful."
While the Crimson (9-4-2, 6-3-1 ECAC) dominated even-strength play, squeezing off 21 more shots and holding the Warriors (7-11-2, 1-8-1 Hockey East) to just 12 at 5-on-5, Merrimack repeatedly struck with a man advantage, torching backup netminder Justin Tobe for four power-play goals in five chances.
Ahead 1-0 and skating 5-on-4 to open the second period, Merrimack wasted little time extending its lead. Warriors defenseman Jeff Caron, Merrimack's offensive catalyst on the afternoon with four assists, wristed the puck into traffic, where it nicked off teammate Scott Drewicki's stick and past Tobe 1:30 after the intermission.
But that, the Warriors' first and only shot during the first 18 minutes of the second period, briefly appeared to be Merrimack's last gasp. Galvanized by the two-goal deficit, the Crimson roared to life, peppering goaltender Jim Healey and forcing several point-blank saves.
Defenseman Dylan Reese solved Healey first 7:28 into the frame, taking a feed from assistant captain Ryan Lannon, then slipping away from a check at the blue line before waiting for congestion to obscure the goaltender's view. His subsequent shot snuck through the pack in front and by Healey to pull Harvard within one.
But despite intense pressure inside the Warriors' zone, Harvard couldn't poke home the equalizer. Captain Noah Welch's high sticking minor at 18:31 granted the Warriors a brief respite—one they eagerly capitalized on just 10 seconds later. Perched at the right point, defenseman Bryan Schmidt feigned a one-timer, then quickly slipped the puck to the left post, where Mike Fournier greedily awaited its arrival. His tap-in broke Harvard's momentum and, it appeared, Tobe's confidence.
"Once we got the second [power-play goal], it was like he, I don't know, maybe he just lost a little bit of confidence because of the way they were coming—you know, tip shots," Merrimack coach Chris Serino said. "It's almost like he knows he can't let another one in to get a couple behind. I think he might have pressed a little bit."
Just moments after Healey turned aside a pair of quality efforts from Crimson pivot Kevin Du to start the final period, Merrimack broke from its own zone and sent the puck careening into the left corner at the Crimson end. There, Brendon Clark fished it out, then shoveled a pass on to Mike Alexiou, who slapped his shot past Tobe to notch a 4-1 lead.
Freshman Dave Watters' power-play goal—the first of his collegiate career and Harvard's lone conversion in four man-advantage opportunities—at 6:02 kept the Crimson's hopes alive, if only for a few moments. Springing from the penalty box as his minor expired, Schmidt received a long outlet pass behind the Harvard defense and raced in on Tobe all alone, roofing his effort to reestablish the Warriors' three-goal edge.
"I didn't think they were getting a ton of opportunities," Donato said. "But it did seem that, when they did, they cashed in on them."
As the third period wore on, the sophomore transfer looked increasingly unsettled in net, on one occasion lunging wildly at a puck that cleared the crossbar by two feet. Brent Gough's unscreened power-play tally from between the circles with 4:54 remaining capped Tobe's forgettable evening and sealed Harvard's shocking defeat.
The Crimson's 8-6 win over Princeton on Nov. 13 aside, disappointing performances between the pipes have been exceedingly rare for Harvard thus far this season. Senior Dov Grumet-Morris, given the night off after recording 37 saves and allowing zero goals on Wednesday against Northern Michigan, has allowed two goals or fewer nine times this year, with Tobe following suit twice.
"You know, we got some goals," said Tobe, who notched 13 saves on the night. "And usually when you score four goals you should win the game, so a lot of that falls on the goalie."
Freshman Tyler Magura and senior Andrew Lederman added goals in the final 2:03 to establish the final two-goal margin of defeat.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.