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They say that sometimes the best things in life are the ones you have to wait for, but that wasn’t necessarily the case for the No. 20 Harvard men’s hockey team on Friday.
Playing its first game in 20 days, the Crimson could not hang on to an early two-goal lead and tied at Merrimack, 2-2, in North Andover, Mass.
All four goals were scored in the second period, during which time Harvard was outshot 16-9. But the Crimson (4-3-1, 3-3 ECAC) got on the board first when sophomore forward Tommy O’Regan and freshman defenseman Desmond Bergin registered scores in the period’s third minute.
At the 3:13 mark of the second, O’Regan put back a rebound in traffic for his first goal of the season, with Bergin and senior defenseman Brendan Rempel earning credit for assists.
Just 31 seconds later, O’Regan returned the favor by assisting Bergin, who fired a slapshot from the left circle past Merrimack goalie Sam Marotta to put Harvard up, 2-0.
Bergin’s goal gave O’Regan an assist in seven of his last eight games and was the first career score for the rookie from Natick, Mass.
“It’s always exciting to get your first college goal, and for it to come in an important game at Merrimack, it had to be a good feeling for him,” junior defenseman Dan Ford said.
But the Warriors (5-7-3, 4-4-1 Hockey East) answered right back within three minutes when Rhett Bly scored a short-handed goal, and at the 13:58 mark of the period, Merrimack’s Mike Collins beat Harvard junior goalie Raphael Girard to tie things up.
Neither team was able to get on the board from there, as the Warriors outshot the Crimson 12-7 the rest of the way and 38-24 on the night.
“It’s hard to keep your feet wet if you haven’t been playing for a couple weeks, but I think we did a good job playing the whole game,” Girard said. “It was a really great effort for the whole team.”
The Crimson was plagued by penalties throughout the night, registering 19 minutes in the box on eight infractions. Merrimack, in contrast, was called for just four penalties totaling eight minutes.
Harvard endured the game’s first four penalties and its final three. Captain Danny Biega was whistled for interference at the 7:59 mark of the opening period and for boarding at 13:50, and later the defenseman was called for kneeing on the final play of regulation.
“I don’t like to complain about the refs, but they had some doubtful calls,” Girard said. “But you have to live with the decisions the ref makes and you have to go with it whether you’re happy or not because you still have to kill the penalty.”
Harvard did just that Friday night, holding Merrimack scoreless on all its man-up opportunities, including throughout the entire five-minute overtime thanks to Biega’s final infraction.
That success continued a recurring trend for Harvard, which has now denied its opponent on 29 of 31 man-up chances (94 percent), the fourth-best rate in the country.
“The penalty kill was really good,” Ford said. “[It] has been pretty good all year with guys blocking shots and competing really hard and getting clears, and that continued last night and really kept us in the game.”
MISSING IN ACTION
During its 19-day stretch between games, a handful of players were removed from Harvard’s official roster, which was smaller Friday night than it had been at the season’s start.
“Some guys had to take a year absent,” Girard said. “I won’t say any names, but like any other team, we might have some problems with the academic scandal. Some of them just want to take leaves to get more playing time and come back later because they were younger guys. Some other guys were just injured. But overall, they’re going to come back; they’re still part of our family and still part of our team.”
Ford added that the Crimson’s preparation this week did not change despite its lacking certain key contributors.
“We knew going in that other guys were going to have to step up and fill the void,” he said. “I think guys did a good job of that [Friday], and we’re not really changing our team’s mindset at all. We just want to keep going, keep getting better, and keep playing the same way we were playing earlier in the year.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.
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