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ALBANY, N.Y.—Headed into the ECAC’s championship weekend, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni stressed the same key variable that had propelled the Crimson through the first two rounds of tournament play: goaltending.
After outshining Travis Russell and Hobey Baker finalist Yann Danis in rounds one and two, respectively, Dov Grumet-Morris—averaging a mere 1.4 goals-against in his last five games headed into the semifinal matchup against Brown—lost little of his luster against Dartmouth Friday evening, turning aside all but one of the 31 shots launched in his direction, despite the potency of the Big Green’s attack.
Facing “conceivably the three best forwards in [the ECAC]”—Jessiman, Lee Stempniak and Mike Ouellette—according to Mazzoleni, Grumet-Morris retained the sharp positioning and solid rebound control that had allowed him to limit opponents to just seven goals during four playoff contests.
“They,” Mazzoleni said, “are a load.”
Though the Big Green bounded into the crease at every opportunity, looking to generate garbage goals off his missteps, Grumet-Morris surrendered nothing off second chances, allowing Stempniak Dartmouth’s only tally—and that coming off a beautiful individual effort in which he slipped past a pair of Crimson defenders before finding the twine.
But by the time that goal was scored, Harvard had already taken a one-goal lead. Making sure the Crimson scored first, or the Big Green second, was firmly in Grumet-Morris’ hands.
Thwarting the 2-on-1s Dartmouth threw at his way over the first half of the game, Grumet-Morris bridged the Brown success to third-period glory.
But Saturday night, that precision was lost in a muddled first period that threatened to send Harvard’s playoff run crashing to the ice.
With the Crimson slow out of the gates, Grumet-Morris provided an early crutch, turning in a handful of solid saves to keep Clarkson off the board early. But as Harvard emerged from its funk, Grumet-Morris regressed.
Overextending himself, skating out of position and surrendering soft rebounds, Grumet-Morris seemed suddenly vulnerable at the back and the Golden Knights pounced.
Keeping the Crimson netminder on his toes by firing in shots from beyond the blue line, Clarkson repeatedly tested him from long range before bringing the pressure to his doorstep.
Mac Faulkner sent a pass cross-ice to Chris Blight who wristed a soft shot through Grumet-Morris’ five-hole at 16:39.
“Good things happen,” Blight said, “when you go to the net.”
Though he had just maneuvered into position, the Harvard goalie had the opportunity to save the shot but was unable to snap his legs shut in time.
Less than a minute later, the Golden Knights were at him again, lofting in a long-range shot, which Grumet-Morris failed to control. Deflecting the wrister to his right, the netminder remained perfectly square to the puck with ample time to cover for a faceoff before Clarkson’s Tristan Lush or Crimson defender Dylan Reese could reach him.
But Grumet-Morris attempted to shuffle the puck into the corner rather than freezing for a draw inside the Harvard zone, and when Lush beat Reese to the passing lane, Grumet-Morris stood little chance.
The Golden Knights’ captain tucked the puck inside the left post, and all of a sudden, the Crimson was down 2-0 with just 2:29 remaining in the first.
Grumet-Morris saved the remaining six shots he faced over the final two periods, after seeing 10 in the first, thanks in large part to a tightened Harvard defensive effort following junior Tom Cavanagh’s equalizing tally.
“Guys sacrificing their bodies,” senior Dave McCulloch said, “that’s the kind of thing that makes the goaltender’s job a lot easier.”
And as the defense fell back to help, Grumet-Morris’ confidence came back. Never restless despite the extended periods of inactivity at his end, he wasn’t going to be caught off guard or beaten again, making sure that two was as high as the Golden Knights’ tally would climb.
It wasn’t what Mazzoleni expected, and it certainly wasn’t the performance Grumet-Morris wanted. But no one ever said the goaltending variable had to be optimized, nor that there would be nothing to offset Grumet-Morris’ troubles.
And in the end, that final calculation, 4-2 Harvard, was all that mattered.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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