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Before the season, Harvard men’s ice hockey head coach Ted Donato said that it would take time for the Crimson to establish an identity, especially on offense, with so many of its players experiencing college hockey for the first time.
Three games into the season, the team is still looking for that identity, as well as its first victory, after a shootout loss to the Princeton Tigers and a blowout loss to the Quinnipiac Bobcats, the defending national champions.
Despite scoring four goals on Friday night against Princeton, the Crimson was outshot 43-21. On Saturday, the Bobcats dominated play from start to finish, outshooting Harvard 41-17, and despite valiant efforts in net from sophomore Aku Koskenvuo, who started on Friday, and senior Derek Mullahy, who played Saturday, the Crimson was plagued by turnovers and a lack of consistency on the offensive end.
“We’ve turned a lot of pucks over at the lines, we haven’t done a good enough job exiting our zone clean,” Donato said. “Until we can really as a group be committed to how we manage the puck then we're not going to have the type of offensive opportunities and production that we would all like to have.”
The team is still working to develop chemistry and experience for a lineup that has a number of underclassmen playing key roles, but the squad’s leadership was quick to dismiss the group’s inexperience as a factor in its poor performance thus far.
“I think obviously we have inexperience but I think we all know we can play better. It's not sort of like it's inevitable,” junior captain and defenseman Ian Moore said. “I think we all know we can play better as a team and kind of stick to our game.”
Quinnipiac 6, Harvard 0
Harvard’s team defense struggled against Quinnipiac, one night after Princeton controlled possession for most of the contest. However, senior goaltender Derek Mullahy was largely up to the task, making a series of excellent stops to keep the Crimson in the game. Just under four minutes in, the senior made an excellent glove save on Bobcats forward Christophe Tellier on a slow-developing 2-on-1, and he shook off a collision in front of the net on the next play to stay in the game.
Harvard struggled all night to manage the puck against Quinnipiac’s relentless pressure, and after a brief delay due to an issue with the boards, Bobcats forward Cristophe Fillion opened the scoring when he received a nice pass from the right wing boards and beat Mullahy through the legs. Harvard’s penalty kill was solid defending a late power play for the Bobcats, keeping the deficit at one entering the first intermission, despite Quinnipiac dominating the game.
“I thought Derek was excellent. I thought we wasted what would have been a really great performance by Derek,” said Donato about his goaltender’s performance on Saturday. “I thought in the first period they were getting chances but they weren't really getting the type of quality ones and when they did, I think he looked very calm back there.”
In the second period, Quinnipiac continued to force turnovers and control possession. The Bobcats got their second goal of the game with four minutes left to play in the period, as forward Anthony Cipollone’s pass deflected into the net off of sophomore defenseman Mason Langenbrunner, stretching Quinnipiac’s lead to 2-0. Harvard had one of its best chances of the game when Bobcats goaltender Vinny Duplessis was caught out of position, but the Quinnipiac defense filled in the gaps to keep the puck out and preserve the team’s two-goal lead heading into the third period.
While Harvard had an outside chance at a comeback at the start of the third period, the Bobcats dashed those hopes with a dominant performance in the final frame. Defenseman Charles-Alexis Legault tallied Quinnipiac’s third goal less than three minutes into the game on a shot from the point through traffic, and the Bobcats put up three goals in the final six minutes, including a gorgeous power play strike by forward Andon Cerbone, to secure a convincing 6-0 win.
Princeton 4, Harvard 4 (Princeton wins shootout 2-1)
In the Crimson’s Friday night contest against Princeton, Harvard snuck by with a tie after a similarly shaky start. Princeton got the scoring started with a quick goal flipped into the top right corner of the net from right inside the crease just 2:24 into the contest.
Shortly after, Harvard was called for its first penalty, a holding on first-year defenseman David Hejduk. However, the Crimson smothered the Princeton attackers, keeping them on the perimeter and killing the power play’s momentum. Princeton had just one shot on the power play, swiftly defended by Aku Koskenvuo.
A phenomenal sequence of goals for Harvard put it ahead 2-1 just over halfway through the first period. Just minutes after the initial Princeton tally, sophomore Ryan Healey settled the puck in the defensive zone, managing to chip it out into center ice. A Princeton defender received the lofted puck with his stick but quickly had it swept up by forward Ben MacDonald, who found fellow first-year Ryan Fine crashing the net. The puck bounced off Fine’s glove and got in behind Princeton’s goaltender, netting him his first collegiate goal and MacDonald his first assist.
After a boarding call against Princeton, Harvard gained its first power play of the season on home ice. After a key faceoff win by junior forward and captain Zakary Karpa, the power play set itself up well, quickly moving the puck on both sides of the ice. Just fifteen seconds into the power play, following passes made by Moore and sophomore Philip Tresca, sophomore Joe Miller faked a pass across the slot before netting one above the Princeton goalie’s shoulder to give the Crimson its first lead of the night.
With momentum now seemingly on the young Harvard team’s side, Marek Hedjuk was called for holding at 17:33 into the first period. This time, it was unable to hold off the Tigers’ pressure. With just 35 seconds left in the period and a second remaining on the power play, Princeton tied the game at two goals apiece heading into the first intermission.
Coming out of the locker room, Harvard hoped to improve on a clean slate, looking past the early first-period goal by Princeton. And it mostly succeeded, allowing no goals and committing no penalties through the next 20 minutes of play. However, Princeton’s offense pushed on, and Harvard struggled to turn 50/50 pucks in their end into any offensive plays of their own. Shot totals at the end of the second period were again in the Tigers’ favor: 22-13.
Difficulties with puck control grew increasingly apparent, even when not in the defensive zone. On several occasions in the neutral and offensive zones, Harvard struggled to complete passes or even settle the puck to bring it up the ice. In the few times they were lucky enough to get it out, pucks would be sent all the way across the rink for icing calls.
“I didn’t think we played great last night, but we were able to get a point out of it,” said Donato on Saturday regarding the team’s play against Princeton.
Harvard felt a greater sense of urgency entering the third period, despite the improved quality of offensive chances it was able to generate. However, the team continued to look flat, letting Princeton get off to a hot start from the drop of the puck. Only a minute into the period, the Tigers collected a rebound and carried it up ice for a 2-on-1, which Princeton sophomore Brendan Gorman finished off to give Princeton a 3-2 lead early on in the third.
Six minutes after the Tigers’ go-ahead goal, Harvard first-year Cam Johnson made a spectacular move after intercepting a weak breakout pass in the neutral zone, sliding the puck on his backhand through his feet in order to split the Princeton defenders. The puck was pokechecked back into Princeton goaltender Ethan Pearson’s pad, leaving an open rebound. Marek Hejduk capitalized on the chance, tying the game 3-3 at 13:10 in the period.
Princeton, feeding off the energy of Harvard’s most recent goal, bounced back less than a minute later, passing to the point and getting a deflected shot off into the top part of the net to make it 4-3. Koskenvuo could do little to prevent the play, as he was out of position on the redirection.
Harvard wasted no time in responding to this setback. Just 25 seconds after Princeton’s goal, a low shot from the point by Healey entered traffic in front of the net and found Miller’s stick for a tip-in. This tied the game once again and marked Miller’s second goal of the night.
With less than two minutes remaining and the game tied at four, Marek Hejduk received a boarding penalty for a hit on Princeton captain Ian Murphy. Harvard’s penalty kill continued to contain the Tigers’ power play and clear the puck effectively, while Koskenvuo stepped up and made some key saves in some dangerous situations, forcing the game into overtime.
Princeton began the five-minute overtime with the man advantage carried over from the end of the third period. Koskenvuo continued to perform as he had all night, making a strong save early on to keep the Crimson in it. However, beyond the first minute, not many shots were recorded by either side, and the period consisted primarily of changes of possession and a general lack of offense. After the period had elapsed, Harvard earned itself another point on the season and went on to the shootout, which the Tigers won 2-1 after four rounds.
The Crimson face an important test next weekend, when it will travel to upstate New York to take on Colgate and archrival Cornell. With only a week to work through some key weaknesses and to regroup after this weekend’s losses, Harvard’s resiliency will certainly be tested.
“We know next weekend we're gonna have to play markedly better in order for us to have success,” Donato said. “I think before we really can start to worry about who we’re playing we have to kind of get a little more committed to the way we want to play.”
-Staff writer Aaron Shuchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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