Six minutes into the third period, forward Jack Donato skated down the right side of the ice and into the offensive zone. With linemate Frédéric Grégoire driving the back post, the sophomore called his own number and ripped a shot over the glove of Bentley goaltender Aidan Pelino.
Donato’s snipe survived to be the game-winner, as Harvard skated to a 2-1 victory over the Falcons in its first-ever clash at Bentley Arena.
“In practice, we work a lot on transition offense: 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s,” Jack Donato said. “You don’t get them a lot in competitive games like this, so to bear down and get another one like that is pretty huge for our team. Obviously, we needed to get the win.”
The Crimson enters the four-week holiday break one game above .500 and feeling slightly better than it did after Saturday’s frustrating loss to then-No. 16 Cornell.
Crimson net-minder Michael Lackey posted another strong outing on Tuesday (1 GA, .960 SV%), building on several sturdy performances against Colgate and Cornell (twice). The senior has seen the puck effectively and exuded confidence between the pipes, and his numbers show it. Since Thanksgiving, Lackey is 3-1-0 on a 1.26 goals against average and a .955 save percentage.
“[Lackey] was awesome. I think he’s definitely hitting his stride, ever since MSG,” Jack Donato said. “I think that was a real turning point for our team. He’s been awesome, giving us chances to win, giving us confidence to take some chances offensively. And he’s been a rock for us.”
The one score he did allow came courtesy of Falcons sophomore forward Brendan Hamblet, who put home an initial wrap-around feed from linemate Jonathan Desbiens. The 13:06 goal trimmed the Crimson lead to just one puck, making the remaining seven minutes interesting as Bentley tried to even the ledger. Lackey held his post, however, and sealed the victory.
“Michael has continued to get better and look more and more comfortable,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “He’s had some big efforts as of late…. As a team, it’s really hard to win without having great nights from your goalie, and we certainly got one tonight.”
For the sixth time this season, Harvard opened the scoring. Early in the second frame, freshman forward Jack Drury punched a one-timer through the pads of Pelino for his fourth strike of the year.
Fellow rookie Casey Dornbach nabbed the assist on the goal, good for his 14th apple of the season. Dornbach (2–14—16) is tied for first in outright points among NCAA freshmen and paces his fellow first-years in assists, as well as per-game averages in both points and assists.
The winger’s hot start to the season earned him ECAC Rookie of the Month honors for November, and after his helper on Tuesday, he sits just a spot behind teammate Adam Fox for the highest assists-per-game average in college hockey (1.27).
“Everyone’s optimistic about the group of guys that we have,” Lackey said. “We know the potential that we have. Although we might have not had games go our way early on in the season, I think everyone is excited for the second half of the season.”
Despite a relatively minor history between Harvard and Bentley — the teams have squared off just five times, with the Crimson having won each matchup — Tuesday’s contest took on a physical tone. Even prior to the first intermission, post-whistle exchanges were heated and chippy collisions were frequent. Both teams were skating in their third bout in five nights, so the physicality took its toll.
“This time of year, [the physicality] starts to take a toll on your body,” Jack Donato said. “We played Friday and Saturday, two pretty competitive games. We knew we needed these two points going forward. We wanted to build off it going into the break…. I thought we did just enough to win the game. We didn’t have our best, but good teams find ways to win, and that’s what we did.”
Also noteworthy in the mid-week showdown, Fox failed to register a point for just the second time this season, with the first occasion being this past Saturday. The junior (5–15—20) still ranks first among defensemen in points and tops college hockey in points per game (1.82) and assists per game (1.36).
Harvard returns to regular-season action in early January with a home tilt against RPI.
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SMorrisTHC.