NEW YORK — Saturday night, in one of the most storied arenas in American sports, the Harvard men’s hockey team might have nabbed the turning-point win it needed.
The No. 18 Crimson (8-5-2, 6-3-1 ECAC) took on Yale (6-9-0, 5-6-0) at Madison Square Garden, hoping to use a rivalry matchup in a high-profile building to reinvigorate a season that began with six straight victories before a slight setback period. For the moment, Harvard did just that.
The group posted a shutout victory over the Bulldogs in its second consecutive triumph in the Big Apple, following up a 4-1 defeat of Cornell in November 2018. Offensive contributions throughout the lineup, not to mention a 27-save clean sheet from freshman goaltender Mitchell Gibson, fueled the 7-0 win.
“We’ve had some really good first periods over the last few games, but we really haven’t put a full game together, and I thought we did that today,” Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “As a young team, sometimes we’re our own worst enemy, but tonight I thought we did a nice job…. Very quietly, Mitch Gibson made a handful of saves that didn’t allow them to get back in the game.”
With Harvard already ahead, 3-0, early in the third period, sophomore forward Jack Drury received a pass in stride following a neutral-zone recovery. The centerman strode down the right side of the ice and fired a high shot past the glove of Yale goaltender Corbin Kaczperski (7 GA, .821 SV%).
The snipe was the second goal in Drury’s eventual hat trick, which he completed eight minutes later. From the time of the sophomore’s second mark, however, the game grew out of hand, resulting in multiple “garbage-time” goals to exaggerate the margin.
Before the second frame was two minutes old, the Crimson began padding the lead it established in the opening stanza. Captain Nathan Krusko stopped hard behind the net, letting Yale senior defenseman Billy Sweezey slide past him. Effectively unguarded, Krusko took the puck around the goal-mouth and forced it through Kaczperski’s pads.
While the Harvard letter-wearer has assumed a bottom-six role this season in favor of talented underclassmen, his contributions on the ice were felt strongly on Saturday night, much to the delight of his teammates.
“It’s good to see your captain get one, and that does get the guys fired up,” Drury said. “But I think we expect it, and we know he’s going to score.”
Krusko’s second-frame strike headlined a productive night from the Crimson’s bottom-six forwards to compliment the dominance of the top trio. Junior winger Jack Donato followed his captain’s tuck with one of his own, burying a cross-ice feed from linemate Baker Shore to extend his team’s advantage to three scores. In total, the bottom two forward pairings amassed two goals and three assists in Saturday’s affair.
“[The bottom six is] always a huge part of our team,” Drury lauded. “You look at consistency — playing the right way — they always do a great job of that. The way they cycle the puck and hem teams in helps [the top line] out a lot…. Our forward depth and our depth all around is a huge strength of ours, and we really like to use it.”
Of course, the production surrounding Drury’s hat trick stands out most. Freshman Nick Abruzzese finished with two helpers, and his opposite wing, sophomore Casey Dornbach, potted a goal of his own while adding an assist.
This dynamic top line — one of the more threatening in the ECAC — is responsible for blowing the game open in the third period. Harvard’s fifth and sixth goals both came from the sticks of the team’s first-line forwards. And just eight seconds after Drury solidified his hat trick, sophomore forward R.J. Murphy, making his return from a seven-game injury absence, cashed in on a Kaczperski turnover to pour salt in the Bulldogs’ collective wound.
The senior net-minder finally succumbed to his frustration, having ceded all seven of the Crimson’s scores. With under two minutes remaining in the tilt, Kaczperski incurred a game misconduct penalty for pouncing on Harvard freshman defenseman Henry Thrun, who had made contact with the backstop after a play in his crease.
Tempers flared during the ensuing brawl, providing the chippiness which fans have grown accustomed to seeing from Harvard-Yale matchups.
Despite what the final score may indicate, the bout did not include prolific offensive action for all 60 minutes. In fact, the teams took several minutes to settle into the famous barn in a sort of feeling-out process. Harvard finally broke open the scoring at the 13-minute mark of the first period.
Just 15 seconds into the group’s first powerplay opportunity of the evening, Drury redirected home a feed from Abruzzese, who zipped a hard pass goalward from the corner. Drury, waiting at the net-mouth with his stick on the ice, beat Kaczperski under the pads.
“I thought their goaltender was tremendous in the first to keep the score at 1-0,” said coach Donato, crediting Kaczperski for his early performance to contain all but one of Harvard’s 18 opening-period shots. “All around, I just thought it was a good effort and a great experience for our guys.”
Drury’s first tally of the evening meant that he has now inked the scoresheet in both Madison Square Garden showdowns in which he has partaken. The two-way center, whose four points led all skaters on Saturday, pocketed an assist in last season’s victory over rival Cornell.
Incidentally, that triumph over the Big Red was the first step in establishing the winning identity of the 2018-2019 Crimson; it set the team on a successful path after a turbulent stretch of play to start the campaign. This year’s iteration of the Harvard icemen hopes that a decisive trouncing of another Ivy League rival will have a similar effect.
With several road trips to Upstate New York, the Beanpot Tournament, and the remainder of the conference schedule ahead, that much remains to be seen.
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @SMorrisTHC.