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ALBANY, N.Y.—The last time members of the Harvard men’s hockey team sat at a post-game press conference here, they spoke in hushed tones after a one-goal third-period lead melted into a devastating overtime defeat in the 2003 ECAC championship game.
There was no such remorse on the dais Friday night. Only confidence, resolve and a hint of unfinished business after the Crimson took a one-goal lead early in the third and refused to budge in a 2-1 win ECAC semifinal win over Dartmouth.
Senior David McCulloch and junior Brendan Bernakevitch scored for Harvard, which extended its unbeaten streak against the Big Green to nine games (7-0-2), including three ECAC tournament wins.
All-ECAC forward Lee Stempniak scored the Big Green’s lone goal.
The Crimson won its seventh ECAC title with a riveting 4-2 win over Clarkson the following night. Dartmouth ended its season at 14-11-9 after a 3-2 consolation loss to top-seeded Colgate.
For the second straight year, McCulloch scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 1-0 lead over Dartmouth in the ECAC semifinals.
No, really. This was a carbon-copy if there ever was one: Same goal-scorer. Same opponent. Same building. Same net. Almost the exact same spot on the ice.
It was only McCulloch’s fifth goal in 113 collegiate games. Three have come in the postseason, including one in the 2002 NCAA tournament.
“Getting the bounces,” he smiled.
Last year, his bounce came less than five minutes into the game. Friday night, he didn’t strike until midway through the second, after the teams traded unsuccessful odd-man rushes for over 30 minutes.
Freshman winger Ryan Maki began the scoring play when, on a hard forecheck, he deflected a cross-ice pass by Dartmouth’s Eric Przepiorka. McCulloch pounced on the loose puck, crept into the left circle and ripped a shot past Dennis Packard’s screen and under the crossbar at 11:40 for the first goal of his senior season.
“I had a running bet with one of the other seniors on the team, to see who was going to score first,” McCulloch said. “Everyone was giving me a hard time about it. It’s nice to get it now.”
The Big Green countered with a supreme individual effort from Stempniak. After stripping Maki at neutral ice, he looped back to the right side, accelerated past All-American defenseman Noah Welch, cut against the grain and barely squeezed a backhander past the outstretched skate of Dov Grumet-Morris.
With only 41.8 seconds left in the period, the game was tied, 1-1.
Packard said his teammates regrouped in the locker room with two things in mind: “Forget the last minute of the period, and gain the momentum back.”
Done and done. Thirty-three seconds into the third, Bernakevitch won an offensive zone draw to Ryan Lannon, who pushed it across to Peter Hafner, who sent in a wrister that Bernakevitch rebounded for his fourth postseason goal.
“Almost too easy,” mused Bernakevitch. “It was sitting there and I whacked it in.”
It was a classic goal for Bernakevitch, a power forward with a plus-13 rating who may have the best touch around the net of any Harvard player.
And oh, just in case you were hoping for more synergy after the McCulloch goal: Bernakevitch scored the game-winner from close range in the Crimson’s 5-3 semifinal win over the Big Green last year.
Friday, Dartmouth outshot Harvard 11-9 in the third, but Grumet-Morris (30 saves) stood tall for his sixth consecutive win.
He was helped by 17 blocked shots, including five during a crucial penalty kill midway through the third.
“That’s the kind of thing you need this time of year,” McCulloch said.
—Staff writer Jon Paul Morosi can be reached at email@example.com.
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