In a season with championship aspirations, the No. 10 Harvard men’s ice hockey team has leaned heavily on its top-six forwards and a series of late game comebacks to jump into the top 10 of the national rankings. However, in the semifinal of the Beanpot Tournament on Monday night against the Boston College Eagles, the script flipped completely.
In an instant classic edition of storied tournament, the Crimson jumped out to a 3-1 lead before surrendering two goals in the final five minutes of the third period to limp into overtime. However, first-year forward Marek Hejduk, taking advantage of more ice time after a slew of Harvard injuries, scored the game-winner with 1.5 seconds to play in overtime, sending the Crimson to the Beanpot championship game for the first time since 2017.
“In order to win, we've seen it not only in regular season games, but even in the Beanpot, guys that step up, whether it's a first year or somebody that maybe everybody wasn't talking about coming in,” head coach Ted Donato said.
Already playing down a top forward after sophomore forward Zakary Karpa missed the game with an upper-body injury, Harvard’s depth was tested further after senior defenseman and captain Henry Thrun departed the contest with an injury of his own. With the Crimson’s bottom two lines not contributing much on the season, as no bottom-six player had more than seven points coming into the contest, Harvard’s depth was tested in one of its most important games of the season, and Hejduk answered the call with the first and last goals of the game. Senior goaltender Mitchell Gibson also turned in one of his finest performances of the season, stopping 45 of 48 shots.
“I thought Marek was excellent all game and I think he and his linemates… I thought they did a nice job for us. In order to win, a lot of times the top players can cancel themselves out. So those guys who are a little bit lower down the lineup can really determine whether you have victory or defeat,” Donato said.
HARVARD 4, BOSTON COLLEGE 3 (OT)
After raucous player introductions, it appeared that the Crimson had broken the ice within the first minute of action after sophomore Jack Bar finished off a great give-and-go with senior forward and captain John Farinacci. However, Eagles head coach Greg Brown successfully challenged the play, arguing that Harvard had too many men on the ice, and the game remained scoreless.
However, the Crimson did not let the challenge deter their offensive push, as it controlled play on offense throughout the period. First-year forward Joe Miller had a great opportunity off a 2-on-1 rush with sophomore forward Matthew Coronato, but BC goaltender Mitch Benson slid across in time to make the save. Junior forward Alex Laferriere soon had a partial breakaway of his own, and sophomore forward Alex Gaffney made a great interception at the offensive blue line to generate a scoring chance, but Benson denied both chances.
“You get that shot of adrenaline when you score the goal, especially when a defenseman, Jack Bar, scores it,” Donato said. “We kind of prepared that [Bar’s goal] was going to go against us and so I thought the guys came right back and I thought they carried play right after that.”
However, midway through the period, Harvard’s offensive pressure paid off in the opening strike. After sophomore defenseman Ian Moore made a great stretch pass to first-year forward Casey Severo, Hejduk and Severo broke into the offensive zone on the rush. Severo fed a great pass to Hejduk as he was cutting down the middle, and Hejduk made a great backhand-forehand move to finish the play off, giving the Crimson a 1-0 lead. Harvard continued to maintain the edge in play after the goal, but the Eagles responded with a strong final shift to generate some momentum heading into the second period down by a goal.
BC’s momentum continued on their first shift of the second period, as Eagles captain Marshall Warren made a great move through the middle of the ice to create open space, but Gibson made the save and Thrun cleared the rebound. Only a minute later, the Crimson snuffed out any BC momentum when it capitalized on a penalty drawn by Farinacci. Junior forward Sean Farrell fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Coronato, who was stationed at the left faceoff circle, and he extended the Harvard advantage to 2-0 with his 15th goal of the season off a one-timer.
“Playing together now for four years, we've developed some chemistry together,” said Farrell of his dynamic with Coronato. “He's a really big goal scorer and I try to find him in any spots where he's ready to shoot. So, I think, a couple really good plays by [Laferriere] and Farinnaci on the power play and I just found [Coronato] in his one-timer spot.”
The Eagles began to push back immediately in an attempt to cut into the deficit, but neither forward Cutter Gauthier or defenseman Eamon Powell were able to beat Gibson, despite some quality chances. However, BC cut the deficit to 2-1 with a power play goal eight minutes into the period. With first-year defenseman Mason Langenbrunner in the box for goaltender interference, forward Mike Posma tipped a cross-ice pass from defenseman Lukas Gustafsson past Gibson to put BC on the board. Despite the Eagles breathing down its neck, Harvard responded with its second power play goal of the period five minutes later, as Farrell again found Coronato with a cross-ice pass for the sophomore’s second goal of the night. The teams traded chances in the final seven minutes of action, including a dangerous offensive sequence for BC in the waning seconds, but the Crimson held on and maintained a 3-1 cushion heading to the final 20 minutes.
“He's obviously one of the top playmakers and top players in the country. It's a pleasure for me to get to play with him,” added Coronato regarding his rapport with Farrell. “You definitely got to see the abilities he has tonight– it's always fun to play with this guy.”
Despite successfully defending a two-goal lead against Cornell just over a week ago, Harvard’s defense crumbled in the third period against the incredibly determined Eagles, with BC outshooting the Crimson 22-2 in the final frame. BC got to work in the offensive zone just under a minute into the period, with a strong period of puck possession and passing truncated by dangerous chances for forwards Nikita Nesterenko and Trevor Kuntar. After a Crimson scoring chance for Gaffney, the Eagles went to work again with a 3-on-2 rush that set up another period of sustained pressure. BC generated a flurry of dangerous chances, including a cross-ice pass that just missed forward Colby Ambrosio and a series of opportunities set up by Powell, but Gibson stopped them all before covering a wrap-around to stop play.
Despite holding back the relentless Eagles attack in the first 15 minutes of the third period, BC finally broke through with just under five minutes to play. After weaving through the offensive zone and past senior defenseman Ryan Siedem, Nesterenko finished off an impressive individual effort with a forehand lifted over Gibson’s right shoulder, cutting the Eagles deficit to 3-2. The overwhelmingly pro-BC crowd, silenced until the final minutes, came to life immediately to aid in the Eagles’ final push to tie the game.
Trailing by one, BC kept its foot on the gas. Only seconds after Nesterenko’s tally, Gibson made a point blank save on forward Cam Burke’s one timer, before a chaotic scramble in the crease forced Harvard to ice the puck. With tired players stuck on the ice and the team’s defense struggling to keep up with the Eagles, Donato used his timeout with just under two minutes to play. However, the move proved to be fruitless, as Gauthier’s perfectly placed wrist shot just after the ensuing faceoff tied the game at 3-3, sending the BC fans in attendance into a frenzy. The Crimson had one final chance to win the game in regulation when Coronato and Farrell created a 2-on-1 rush in the dying seconds, but Farrell’s one-timer sailed high, and the two teams headed to a five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime deadlocked at 3-3.
“I give Boston College a lot of credit. They put us under a lot of pressure. Certainly in the third period, they kept coming,” Donato said. “They're very well coached. They have some high end players…I think they had momentum on their side.”
In a chaotic extra session, both teams had golden opportunities to secure a berth in the championship game. Only seconds in, Laferriere was left all one in the slot, but his wrister was gobbled up by Benson. Gauthier fired a hard rising shot that sailed over Gibson’s head, while Gustafsson had his own chance off the rush, but he failed to finish it off. With time ticking under 10 seconds and Moore stuck behind the Harvard goal line, it appeared that the game was heading to a shootout to decide the result. However, after a perfect outlet pass from Moore, Laferriere found Hejduk flying down the left wing, and the Parker, Colo. native hammered a one-timer past Benson with under two seconds to play, sending the Crimson to its first championship game since 2017 and sending the team pouring off the bench to celebrate.
“With these two rushes I had tonight, I got the puck on my stick and just felt automatic from there,” said Hejduk, who saw his first overtime action of the season in the decisive seconds of the extra session.
“I'd have to check but I do think that was the first shift that Marek spent all year in overtime,” Donato said. “We had some guys tired, some guys banged up. I thought he was going and deserved the opportunity and, you know, good for him. He made a tremendous shot there.”
The Crimson will return to T.D. Garden next Monday to take on either the Boston University Terriers or the Northeastern University Huskies at 7:30 pm in the Beanpot Championship.
—Staff writer Aaron B. Shuchman can be reached at email@example.com
—Staff writer Bridget T. Sands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org