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Bridgeport, Conn. –– After a narrow loss to Minnesota State in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, the No. 7 Harvard men’s ice hockey team seemed to be on the upswing, with the majority of the NCAA’s then-youngest team returning for another shot at a national title run. After blazing through the regular season with a stellar 24-8-2 record, the Crimson entered the 2023 NCAA Tournament with legitimate hopes of reaching the Frozen Four.
However, on Friday afternoon, Harvard’s championship dreams collapsed. After an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes at Total Mortgage Arena, the Crimson’s season is over, and the program faces major questions moving forward, as a number of key contributors are expected to depart to begin their professional careers.
“I guess as simple as I could put it is we picked a tough game to have a really poor performance – from our coaching on down [to the players]. So, we give [Ohio State] all the credit but certainly we would have liked to play a lot better,” Harvard head coach Ted Donato ’91 said.
The Crimson had no answers for the Buckeyes, who were in complete control at both ends of the ice, outshooting Harvard 40-22 while largely eliminating the Crimson’s star players from the game. After Ohio State led by two at the end of the first period, Harvard’s renowned comeback ability never materialized, as the Buckeyes tacked on five goals in the second period to put the game out of reach by the second intermission.
“It’s a career-ending loss that was probably the worst loss I’ve had in my hockey career so far,” said senior forward and captain John Farinacci. “It's not one that I’m used to – being down by that many goals, it's a tough one…I can’t really put it into words right now. I have to digest it and move on.”
With the dominant victory, Ohio State will move on to face the No. 2 Quinnipiac Bobcats on Sunday afternoon with a Frozen Four berth on the line.
OHIO STATE 8, HARVARD 1
Despite a strong set of opening shifts for Harvard, Ohio State took control of the game four minutes into play and never looked back. After a strong forecheck gained possession for the Buckeyes, a great pass found forward Cam Thiesing near the goal line, and the junior roofed a tight-angle wrist shot over senior goaltender Mitchell Gibson to give Ohio State an early 1-0 lead. Harvard’s offense sputtered throughout the first period, failing to create clean zone entries, while the Buckeyes forced the Crimson into turnovers and generated dozens of chances, including excellent opportunities for co-captain Gustaf Westlund, who was playing in his first game since October, and forward Joe Dunlap.
Harvard’s top offensive players responded by attempting to create offense in one-on-one and one-on-two situations, but the Buckeyes’ stout defense refused to give up an inch. Gibson kept Harvard in the game with a series of stellar stops, including an incredible sliding stop on forward Michael Gildon, but Ohio State stretched its lead to 2-0 with just over 90 seconds to play in the first. Defenseman Cole McWard’s shot from the blue line caromed off of a player in front and past Gibson, and despite Donato’s challenge for goaltender interference, the play stood as called, and Harvard entered the first intermission facing a two-goal deficit.
“I think we had many more chances than just the two that we scored in that first period,” Buckeyes co-captain Jake Wise said. “So I think that was kind of a confidence boost and if we just kept playing like that, eventually they’d have to start going in.”
The Crimson has faced multi-goal deficits throughout the season, and while it hasn’t been able to come back every time, the squad has often found a way to push back and stay competitive until the final buzzer. However, in the second period, Harvard completely unraveled, as the Buckeyes put five goals on the board in a commanding performance. Westlund started the scoring when he finished off a great passing play with Wise, and Thiesing scored his second of the night just six seconds later on a backhand from the left circle, putting Ohio State up 4-0.
The Buckeyes didn’t stop to rest on their laurels, tallying their third goal of the period after forward Stephen Halliday made a great pass from the point to defenseman Mason Lohrei, who redirected the puck into the net at the far post. Dunlap added another goal off of an impressive mid-air deflection with just under five minutes to play in the period, and frustration soon began to set in for the Crimson, as junior forward Ryan Drkulec was called for a penalty behind the play. Only five seconds into the Ohio State power play, McWard scored his second of the night on a shot from the point through traffic, and when the second period finally concluded, the Buckeyes held a 7-0 lead.
“They're an unbelievable team, and they got two lines that could play against anyone,” Wise said. “I think the biggest thing was we knew that from playing the Minnesota’s and Michigan's, a similar team, that if we could possess pucks, hold onto pucks, and reload hard…that we'd have success, and I think we kind of hit our game plan to a T there.”
To start the third period, Donato replaced Gibson in net with junior Derek Mullahy, but Mullahy was given a rude welcome when Buckeyes forward Patrick Guzzo finished off a perfect cross ice pass only 70 seconds into the period, pushing their lead to 8-0. Harvard was able to avoid the embarrassment of a shutout when Farinacci scored on the power play with under five minutes to play, and Donato also sent Gibson back to the net for the final minutes of action to finish off his collegiate career. When the final buzzer sounded, the Crimson’s season, which began with so much promise and expectation, had come to a screeching halt in an unsightly 8-1 loss.
“We played a really good hockey team here tonight and we were just relentless…[we] believed and when you put that stuff together, it's pretty powerful,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said.
Despite the shocking end to the season, Donato was quick to highlight the team’s success throughout the regular season and the high character of his players.
“I mentioned at the end when I talked to them that this season won't be defined by this one game,” Donato said. “It's disappointing, but these guys had a great year and certainly I'm proud of not only their performance but how they cared for each other and how they carry themselves. They were an amazing group to coach.”
With a talented senior class graduating and potentially heading to the NHL, as well as some highly touted underclassmen who may depart to begin their professional careers, the Harvard roster will look quite different next year.
Thrun (San Jose Sharks), Gibson (Washington Capitals), and Farinacci (Arizona Coyotes) are all expected to sign entry-level contracts, though seniors may wait until their draft rights expire in August, when they would be free to sign with any NHL team. Junior forward Sean Farrell, the ECAC Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker Award top-10 finalist, is expected to sign with the Montreal Canadiens, while sophomore forward Matthew Coronato and junior forward Alex Laferriere may ink deals with the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, respectively.
Harvard’s 2022-2023 roster boasted the most NHL draft picks in the NCAA with 15, and the impending loss of top players will undoubtedly be felt throughout the lineup next season. Nonetheless, this year’s squad made an indelible impact on Donato.
“This is a really special group… as close a group I've been able to be around as coach in 19 years,” Donato said. “They dealt with a lot, having the playoffs canceled for COVID, missing the whole season, and [they] really represented the university and themselves at every turn very well. It was a really close group. We had a group of guys that felt it was a privilege to play for Harvard.”
–Staff writer Bridget T. Sands can be reached at email@example.com
–Staff writer Aaron B. Shuchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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