POTSDAM, N.Y. — One thing the Harvard men’s hockey team lacked was a win over a top-10 foe. On Friday night, the No. 20 Crimson (12-8-6, 10-4-5 ECAC) checked that box.
Harvard defeated No. 5/6 Clarkson, 5-2, to start its infamous North Country road trip on a high note. The Golden Knights (22-7-2, 15-4-0) represent the highest-caliber opponent Harvard has defeated in 2019-2020 and the program’s first takedown of a top-five team since its Beanpot crown on Feb. 13, 2017.
The victory comes at a crucial time of jockeying for position in the conference standings — the two points enhance the Crimson’s chances of locking in a top-four seed and hence a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament.
With Friday’s result, Harvard has taken points from all 11 conference adversaries this season.
“It was a good win for us,” said Crimson forward Jack Donato. “[Clarkson is] one of the better teams in the league…. We wanted to have a good team effort. Four lines chipped in, six [defensemen], really good goalie play.”
Already ahead by two scores early in the first period, Harvard coughed up multiple east-west passes on the powerplay leading to two quality chances going the other way for Clarkson forward Zach Tsekos. Freshman goaltender Mitchell Gibson (2 GA, .946 SV%), however, kept both chances out of the Crimson net.
“I thought they had a few pretty big chances,” Gibson said. “Just kind of had a clear mind and came up when I needed to. Obviously, the two breakaways in the first, and knowing they had the number-one penalty kill in the country, I was just trying to be ready at all times.”
Having narrowly escaped a brief stretch of sloppy play, Harvard dealt another blow to its hosts. Junior winger Henry Bowlby used his speed to gain an edge on Golden Knights forward Mathieu Gosselin. A drop pass and a blocked shot left the puck lingering in the slot, where junior centerman Jack Badini picked it up and, subsequently, found twine.
Badini’s momentum-shifting goal was also the deciding strike in Friday’s affair.
“That [goal] was huge,” said Crimson sophomore forward Jack Drury. “That line has been good for us all year. Whenever they’re together, [Badini, sophomore R.J. Murphy, and Bowlby] have done a great job being hard and being fast…. [The goal] was great timing, and give Bowlby and Badini a lot of credit for making that play happen.”
Early in the middle stanza, the foes traded notches. Clarkson came out of the intermission firing after a lackluster first 20. Within two minutes, the green and gold were on the board, courtesy of a slick backhand shot that sophomore forward Anthony Callin roofed on Gibson.
Three minutes later, rookie blue-liner Henry Thrun got one back for Harvard. His wrist shot passed the officials’ review for goaltender interference and restored the Crimson’s comfortable three-goal advantage.
Toward the end of the frame, Harvard saw another could-be goal go to review; this time, senior forward Colton Kerfoot’s stuff attempt was deemed to have been saved by Kris Oldham (0 GA, 1.000 SV%), the backstop who replaced starter Frank Marotte (4 GA, .789 SV%) after Thrun’s tuck.
The Crimson ended the second period with a 31-20 lead in shots.
“The big lead kind of kept our confidence going,” Gibson said. “We just wanted to stay the course [when Clarkson scored in the second period]. We knew it was a big game, we knew we were still up. I thought it was just a good shot, nothing structurally deficient or anything like that.”
The Crimson was committed to throwing shots on goal early in Friday’s bout. Offensive-zone pressure led to the game’s first powerplay two and a half minutes after the opening puck drop.
Mere seconds into the man advantage, sophomore defenseman Jack Rathbone sent a point shot toward Marotte. The puck trickled through the tender’s pads and for a moment sat in the blue paint, where Drury shoved it across the line.
Drury’s 17th of the season extends his Division-I lead in goals per game (0.74). Twenty-one of his 32 points have come on Harvard’s lethal man-up unit, which currently paces the nation at a 30.8 percent clip and has converted in all but five contests in 2019-2020.
The Harvard powerplay found success despite the formidability of the Golden Knights penalty kill, ranked number-one in the league at 91.7 percent effective.
Before the game was five minutes old, the visitors potted another puck to silence the boisterous Cheel Arena crowd. The culprit was yet another Jack — he of the Donato variety.
The winger forced a turnover on the forecheck. With the puck at the bottom of the left circle, he hesitated, took it around the cage, and forced home a wrap-around attempt.
“They were a little fidgety back there [on defense] to start the game,” Donato said. “[My linemates] did a really good job forechecking them…. I just wanted to get a puck on the net. [Goaltending coach Brian Robinson] puts the scouting report out: slow moving post-to-post, so we wanted to try to take advantage of that early.”
Donato finished with a game-high two goals, as he also potted the empty-netter to seal the triumph.
Both Rathbone and first-year forward Nick Abruzzese had productive nights, pocketing two assists apiece. The former, with seven points (2–5—7) in his last four outings, is one of just five rearguards in the NCAA to be at or above a point-per-game pace. Meanwhile, the latter continues a stellar freshman campaign and torrid stretch of late — Abruzzese leads college hockey in points since Dec. 1 with 28 (11–17—28).
After an uplifting win, the Crimson will take its productive group down the road to Canton, N.Y. for a Saturday matchup with St. Lawrence. While on paper the Golden Knights appear the more competitive North Country opponent, an equally valuable two ECAC points are on the line.
“We’re not really looking too far ahead,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “There are two teams in front of us, Cornell and Clarkson. We’ve played well against [them] in our last two meetings. But realistically, that means nothing. So, we have to earn our way just to finish in the top four in the [ECAC] standings.”
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMorrisTHC.