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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — After the first frame in Friday’s bout against Union, the Harvard men’s hockey team was trailing by a score. After another 20 minutes, the No. 16 Crimson was ahead by four.
A six-goal second period is to thank for completely reversing the course of the game. Harvard (10-6-4, 8-4-3 ECAC) and its scorching offense routed the Dutchmen (6-18-3, 4-10-1) by a final tally of 8-5 in its sole challenge of the weekend ahead of Monday’s Beanpot Tournament.
“I have a lot of respect for this program,” said Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 of Union. “After the first, we needed a response, and I thought that we had to raise our compete level if we wanted to be able to hold onto pucks and play offense. Nice getting some goals from other lines than the first.”
Due to a strong response to open the middle stanza, the Crimson regained both the lead and momentum after a first period that left something to be desired. This abrupt turnaround defined Friday’s affair, as Union never sniffed a tie game — much less a win — thereafter.
For Harvard, once the second-period goals started, they seemingly never stopped. The visitors put in three before the midway point of the frame, quickly padding the advantage they opened up just minutes before. On the third tuck, sophomore blue-liner Marshall Rifai ripped a drop pass from classmate and forward Jack Drury, dazzling with a pinpoint snipe for his first collegiate score.
“He’s my roommate, so I’ve been listening to him talk about trying to get the first one for a long time,” said Drury of Rifai, with a grin. “Everyone was really excited. He’s a really good guy in the locker room, a huge piece of our team in terms of our character and our identity.”
Harvard cashed in another three times in the back half of the frame, including two goals by members of the top forward line. In total, Drury, sophomore Casey Dornbach, and freshman Nick Abruzzese finished with 12 points on Friday evening, showcasing the skill level that has earned each of them the status of a better-than-point-per-game scorer this season.
These dynamic skaters accounted for all three of their team’s powerplay conversions, making Friday another successful night for the Crimson man-up unit, which paces the nation at 30.7 percent effective.
“As we were able to kind of open up the game and get on the powerplay, some of our top guys made some high-end, skilled plays,” coach Donato said.
Abruzzese’s first of two notches with the extra attacker, in which a cross-crease pass resulted in a Union own-goal, proved to be the game-winner. He followed up with another goal, this time 5-on-3, before Drury found pay dirt for his second.
Harvard did not let up after its overwhelming second period, which resulted in a goalie swap for the Dutchmen, chipping in an additional two goals in the third. Union was able to find twine as well, preserving some semblance of respectability with one strike at the very end of the second and another three in the final stanza.
“There’s a little bit of a lapse in intensity on your side because you feel comfortable with the lead, but the last thing you want to do is sit on a lead at any point in the game,” Abruzzese said. “That’s something we can learn from moving forward: keep the intensity level high and keep playing on our toes, keep attacking the other team no matter the score of the game.”
A relatively uneventful first period found some life late in the frame. Three minutes before the intermission, Union senior Vas Kolias threw a pass from the point down to the goal mouth, where freshman defenseman Dylan Anhorn redirected it. The puck squeaked through the legs of goaltender Mitchell Gibson, and Anhorn followed his initial chance by punching it home.
The Dutchmen had controlled play several shifts before Anhorn’s fourth of the year and continued to carry the action through the end of the period. The Crimson’s comeback abruptly halted what initially appeared to be a surge in momentum for the home team.
“We came in after [the first] period, and the coach emphasized that we had to get more guys to the net,” Drury said. “We’ve talked a lot about momentum throughout the year, and how to manage it…. I think today was a good example of [the importance of] that.”
Friday’s capture of two precious ECAC points marks the first time Harvard has left Frank L. Messa Rink with a victory since Jan. 2010. A team effort made this possible, as all four forward lines contributed goals.
In the second period, junior forward Henry Bowlby redirected a point shot five-hole. Thirty seconds later, sophomore forward R.J. Murphy beat Union goaltender Darion Hanson (5 GA, .773 SV%) top-right with a rocket in transition. The Crimson’s fifth goal of the stanza came courtesy of sophomore center Baker Shore, whose gritty net-front presence paid off.
“When we have all four lines going, that’s kind of the standard for us,” Drury said. “That can lead to creating a lot of offensive chances.”
In addition to a two-goal, two-assist night from both Drury and Abruzzese, Dornbach played the role of facilitator with four helpers. On the blue line, rookie Henry Thrun pocketed three assists, and junior Reilly Walsh and sophomore Jack Rathbone pitched in two apiece.
Rathbone made his return to the lineup after a three-game absence due to a shoulder injury sustained in mid-January’s triumph over St. Lawrence. The Vancouver Canucks prospect, who ranks in the top five in per-game scoring among Division-I defensemen (1.06), wasted no time getting back on the scoresheet.
Despite nabbing the win, Gibson (5 GA, .839 SV%) left the door open for senior Cameron Gornet to receive the nod in the upcoming Beanpot clash with Northeastern. While coach Donato did not comment on the matter, the battle for the starting crease remains a noteworthy storyline ahead of Monday evening.
That night, a much more formidable foe will be staring down Harvard at TD Garden — a prime opportunity for the Crimson to pick up a statement win over a ranked opponent.
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SMorrisTHC.
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