All week, supporters of the Harvard men’s hockey team were left to wonder whether do-it-all goaltender Merrick Madsen would be healthy enough to suit up for the Crimson’s two biggest games of the year—beginning with this weekend's clash involving No. 6 Union.
When all was said and done, a missing netminder did play a critical role in Friday night’s battle of the ECAC’s best. It just wasn’t Madsen.
Rather, Union starter Alex Sakellaropoulos missed his third consecutive game with a lower-body injury, and Harvard pounded his replacement. The No. 4/5 Crimson scored four times in the first period and a half, chasing sophomore Jake Kupsky from his goal with 7:59 remaining in the middle frame. Two empty-netters later, Harvard closed the book on a 6-2 victory that temporarily moves the Crimson—a winner of five straight games—into first place in the ECAC.
Sophomore Ryan Donato stole the show with a four-goal outburst, becoming the first Harvard player to accomplish such a feat since Connor Morrison '13 in November 2009. The second-year forward launched a whopping 13 shots on goal in the contest, just six fewer than the rest of his team combined.
When asked by one reporter whether he realized how many attempts he had taken at the net, Donato simply smiled and said he had no idea.
“If that’s the case, I probably should have passed it a couple more times,” he laughed.
The sophomore scored once in the first, again in the second, and then added two empty-netters in the third to put a stamp on his career night. Donato now has two hat tricks as a member of the Crimson (17-5-2, 12-4-2 ECAC), and both were recorded against the Dutchmen (19-8-2, 12-4-1).
Donato’s second goal—a wrister from the outer edge of the right faceoff circle—was the first of three Harvard scores over a span of 4:17 that knocked Kupsky out of the game midway through the second frame. A far cry from Donato's first goal—the product of a fortuitous forecheck—the Scituate, Mass., native's shot from the circle sailed successfully through traffic to increase the Crimson’s lead to 2-0 at 7:44.
Four minutes later, fellow second-year Viktor Dombrovskiy launched a wrister of his own from the point that soared past Kupsky, who had been screened by co-captain Devin Tringale. And 23 seconds after that, senior Sean Malone escaped a defender low in the slot to bang home a feed from classmate Luke Esposito, upping Harvard’s advantage to 4-0.
In an attempt to stop the bleeding, Union called timeout and swapped out Kupsky for sophomore Joe Young, who stopped all 13 shots he saw in relief.
Backed by Young, the Dutchmen did begin to stage a comeback in the third, as Hobey Baker candidate Mike Vecchione and his linemate, Sebastian Vidmar, both found twine in the opening nine minutes of the final frame to cut the Crimson’s lead in half.
“We expected their team to come out full of fire in the third,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “I don’t know if we handled it as well as we could’ve. I thought we turned the puck over kind of needlessly and gave them chances. They certainly have the weapons to get back in the game.”
But manning the crease for the 24th straight time this season, Madsen held his ground the rest of the way, making 17 saves in the period and 32 for the game to help secure the win for the Crimson.
After the game, Madsen and Ted Donato both credited Matt Whalen, Harvard's associate director of Sports Medicine, for working throughout the week to have the goaltender ready to roll Friday. Madsen had suffered a lower-body injury in the final seconds of Monday's Beanpot semifinals and missed at least one practice in the lead-up to Friday's game.
“All I was focused on this week was getting in here and every day putting in the hours I needed to get back to normal,” Madsen said. “I felt great out there. Didn’t even feel wrong. Nothing felt bad.”
Madsen made one of his biggest stops of the night when Union was on the power play trying to climb out of a 4-2 deficit with a little more than five minutes remaining. Junior Spencer Foo, who had a hand in both Dutchman goals when Union defeated Harvard 2-1 last month, ripped a shot towards the far post from the left faceoff circle that could have pulled the Dutchmen within one. But Madsen fully extended his left pad to make the stop, and the penalty expired shortly thereafter.
Union pulled its goaltender with 2:30 remaining in hopes of inching closer with an extra attacker, but Ryan Donato wound up finding the empty cage on two separate occasions—once with 2:16 left and again with 14 seconds remaining after the Dutchmen gained another power play.
In all, the Crimson penalty kill held Union 0-for-5 on man advantages—tied for its best statistical performance in league play this season.
The Dutchmen will have a chance to pull back into first place Saturday night against Dartmouth, but for the time being, Harvard now holds a one-point edge over both Union and No. 18 St. Lawrence. By Sunday, all three teams will have four conference games remaining.
- Union coach Rick Bennett declined to comment after the game.
- Harvard now ranks fourth in the PairWise rankings, while Union drops into a tie for 12th.
- Union outshot the Crimson by a slim margin (34-32) but dominated the faceoff circle, 41-22.
- The Crimson's power-play struggles continued on Friday, as Harvard came up empty on three attempts, including a full two-minute 5-on-3. The Crimson has now gone just 2-for-21 over its last six games, dropping from first to fourth nationwide in efficiency.
- Freshman defenseman Adam Fox logged just one point on Friday, but he tied a career-high with a +4 rating on the night.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Meagher.