UPDATED: January 8, 2016, at 10:08 a.m.
Dating back to February 2009, 18 of the last 19 meetings between the Harvard and Princeton men’s hockey teams have been one-goal affairs—if not closer—in the third period.
Saturday night's contest was just the latest example. Rebounding from a brutal 5-0 loss to Dartmouth in their 2017 opener the night before, the Tigers gave the No. 4/3 Crimson a battle at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center, pulling even with the high-powered hosts a little more than three minutes into the final frame.
Yet for the second time this season against the Orange and Black, a Harvard co-captain delivered the difference-maker. Two months after Devin Tringale’s third-period breakthrough gave the Crimson an edge in the teams’ first meeting, Alexander Kerfoot’s wrister from the center of the point broke a 2-2 tie with 15:48 left to play. Junior goaltender Merrick Madsen subsequently stopped all 11 shots he saw the rest of the way, and two empty-netters in the last minute of action inflated the final scoreline to 5-2 in favor of the hosts.
Harvard’s offense was buzzing all night long, generating a whopping 51 shots on goal. That marks the highest output for the Crimson (11-2-1, 7-1-1 ECAC) since a 2014 contest against none other than the Tigers and netminder Colton Phinney, who made a career-high 51 saves as a rookie then and 46 more on Saturday.
Phinney opened the game a perfect 30-for-30 between the pipes this time around, allowing Princeton (7-10-1, 3-8-1) to open up a 1-0 lead in the second period despite Harvard’s high volume of shots. Nonetheless, in the latter stages of the same frame, the game finally flipped.
Capitalizing on a turnover by Tiger captain Ryan Siiro, senior Luke Esposito worked his way from the left faceoff dot to the inner edge of the circle before dishing off a pass to junior Jake Horton down low. Horton immediately turned and fired, sending the puck off the right skate of Princeton’s Quin Pompi and into the net—mirroring the Tigers’ first goal which bounced in off of sophomore defenseman Jacob Olson.
“I don’t feel like we had the energy at a level that we usually have until we scored our first goal, and I think it kind of gave the bench a little life,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “Then I thought we started winning more 1-on-1 battles and races to the puck.”
Less than a minute later, a holding penalty called against Princeton forward David Hallisey inhibited the Tigers’ ability to regroup. Just 18 seconds into the power play, freshman defenseman Adam Fox’s laser from the point beat a screen and found the top left corner, suddenly giving the Crimson its first lead of the night.
“I wish Fox had too many beers two nights ago so he couldn’t play,” Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said. “He’s a really good hockey player.”
Fox of course played in the World Junior Championships for Team USA, who defeated Russia and Canada on Wednesday and Thursday to capture gold in Montreal. But that didn’t stop Fox from suiting up for both Harvard games this weekend, as the freshman logged three points across his third and fourth games in as many days.
Fogarty called Fox’s strike from the man advantage the turning point in the game. Nonetheless, Princeton did become the first team in six tries not to surrender multiple power-play goals to the Crimson. After earning seven power-play opportunities against Quinnipiac on Friday, Harvard managed just four against the Tigers, and the visitors held their own on the first three.
“They play a fast game, and they end up not taking a lot of penalties...because they’re not having to hack guys because they’re coming back so hard,” Madsen said. “It takes the special teams out of it, so when you end up playing those guys, you know that you’re going to have to step up and really play a man’s game.”
The game may have turned on Fox’s goal, but it remained very much up for grabs in the third period, especially after Princeton pulled back into a tie at 3:02. Freshman center Jackson Cressey collected a drop-pass in the slot from December’s ECAC Player of the Month, Max Veronneau, and beat Madsen stick-side to make it 2-2.
But Kerfoot’s response from just inside the blue line followed practically a minute later. With two points on the night, the center from West Vancouver now has over 100 for his career. He ranks third in the country in points per game (1.71) and second—only to Fox—in assists per game (1.21).
Madsen held tough the rest of the way, notching his second game of the weekend with 30-plus saves—this one against a team that earned wins in seven of its final nine games of 2016, going 5-2 against ranked opponents over that span.
“They had two or three very scary opportunities that he made look pretty easy,” Donato said. “Merrick had a great weekend. It looks like a lot of the hard work he’s put in is paying off.”
At 19:00, junior Seb Lloyd notched an empty-net goal—something he probably could have had on Friday as well if he hadn’t given away his chance to freshman Nathan Krusko, who at the time was one goal away from a hat trick. Sophomore Ryan Donato added another with three seconds remaining.
Since Union was out of action this weekend, Harvard has now pulled to within two points of the ECAC frontrunner with one game still in hand. The two contenders will square off in Schenectady, New York, this Saturday.
—Harvard now sits second in the PairWise rankings, which typically predict the NCAA tournament field with great accuracy.
—Thanks to the Crimson's two empty-netters, Harvard moved into first in the country in goals per game (4.57). The Crimson just barely passed Penn State, who sits comfortably in second (4.53).
—Harvard took just two penalties on Saturday and killed both of them.
—Having played games on four consecutive nights, Adam Fox said that he now plans to take a couple days off to "try to recover emotionally and physically" from the World Junior Championships.
"Obviously it's a stressful time—the tournament," Fox said. "It's high intensity. It really tires you out. You're so focused in there, and then having to come back here and stay in the zone and keep the focus is definitely something that was kind of tough. But I kind of had to fight through it, I had to do it, so to take a couple days off here will be really big."
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.
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