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Men's Hockey Survives Late Surge from Quinnipiac in ECAC Semifinals

Vesey Empty Net
Junior forward Jimmy Vesey celebrates after scoring Harvard's first empty net goal to put the Crimson up, 4-2, on Quinnipiac with 1:36 left in regulation in the ECAC tournament semifinals on Friday.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.—Prior to Friday afternoon’s ECAC tournament semifinal game between the No. 17/15 Harvard and No. 7/7 Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey teams, Jimmy Vesey received his trophy as ECAC Player of the Year. Over the ensuing 60 minutes of hockey, the junior forward proved why he deserved the honor.

Carrying the puck behind the goal line on the game’s opening shift, Vesey threw a shot towards goal which skipped off a Bobcat defenseman and into the back of the net to put the Crimson (20-12-3, 11-8-3 ECAC) up by one just 30 seconds in. And in a contest bookended by scores from the Nashville Predators prospect, Vesey added an empty netter in the final stages of the game to send Harvard to its first ECAC championship game since 2012 with a 5-2 victory at Herb Brooks Arena.

Vesey’s goal set the tone for the first period as the Crimson jumped out to an early three-goal lead on scores from fourth-year forward Colin Blackwell and sophomore center Tyler Moy. The lead was one that would stand for the entirety of the game as the Bobcats (23-11-4, 16-3-3) were forced to play from behind for all but the first half-minute of action.

“Our overall play in the first was probably our best,” Vesey said. “That was the start we wanted, and we fed off that.”

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Nonetheless, the regular season conference champion never backed down. Fighting off Harvard’s third power play of the game midway through the second, Quinnipiac got itself back into the game by capitalizing on a Crimson miscue.

After sophomore forward Sean Malone tripped over the attacking blue line, Bobcat defenseman Justin Agosta snatched the puck from the sophomore’s feet and skated out to a two-on-one with senior forward Alex Barron. Once Barron entered the lower half of the slot, Agosta dished the puck off, but rather than pulling the trigger, Barron dumped an additional pass off to junior center Travis St. Denis.

The top-liner’s first shot was sent wide, but with Crimson goaltender Steve Michalek out of position, St. Denis went behind the net to retrieve his own rebound and guided it in for Quinnipiac’s first score of the night and his 15th of the season.

Less than six minutes later, the Bobcats were at it again. With Michalek scrambling to get back to his crease after playing a puck behind his own net, junior forward Soren Jonzzon took advantage, ripping a shot through the net-minder’s five-hole to cut the Crimson’s lead to one.

“We just made a couple mistakes, and they capitalized on those,” Vesey said. “It started getting a little bit scary on the bench because they were kind of pressing us, but I think we were all happy when that buzzer went off and [we] could regroup and come back out for the third.”

Following the game, Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 proved to be in agreement with Vesey. But Donato, who will be coaching in his fifth conference championship game on Saturday, also found a way to put his team’s lead at the second intermission into perspective.

“If you had told us that we had a one-goal lead heading into the third period to make it to the championship game of our league a few months ago,” Donato began to claim, “I think we all would have taken it.”

St. Denis nearly found an equalizer multiple times in the third, including a great chance on the edge of the crease after receiving a pass from freshman forward Tanner MacMaster behind the net. Additionally, a power play following a Moy interference penalty with 8:33 remaining provided Quinnipiac with another chance to level the score.

But in accordance with tradition, the famous scoreboard of Herb Brooks Arena, which has been preserved for a number of decades, remained the same once more. The 3-2 scoreline would hold until the final two minutes of play, when Bobcat coach Rand Pecknold opted to pull goaltender Michael Garteig. Despite pressing for the game-tying goal, Quinnipiac could not beat Michalek a third time. Vesey recorded his second goal of the night and seventh of the playoffs on the empty net with 1:36 remaining, and Malone added another in the final minute to secure the win.

“[The score] got a lot closer than any of us probably would have liked,” Donato said. “But we stuck with it, made some big saves, [and] made some key plays at the end of the game to get us out of there and give us a chance to play for the championship tomorrow.”

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