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It was a difference of one shot.
In the highly-anticipated, annual duel of Boston’s best collegiate hockey teams, the No. 9 Harvard Crimson fell to the No. 16 Northeastern Huskies in a shootout.
The heartbreak took place on the second Monday of February, at Boston’s iconic TD Garden, in the final of the 2023 Beanpot Tournament — the 70th edition of the historic competition — and the first time Harvard faced Northeastern in the finals. The Crimson had fought hard to earn their spot in the championship, with first-year forward Marek Hejduk playing hero in the first round with two goals, including the overtime winner that gave Harvard the victory over the Boston College Eagles.
The title match, of which Harvard had not returned to since its last victory in 2017, was a hard-fought battle, one in which both Harvard’s former senior goalkeeper Mitchell Gibson and the Huskies’ Devon Levi played instrumental roles in the game. Both allowed only two goals in regulation and none in overtime, with Gibson recording 27 saves while Levi chalked 32.
Levi was eager to revisit the Crimson, with Harvard having scored eight goals against the top-10 Hobey Baker finalist in a 8-4 New Year’s Day win earlier in the season. “They put on a clinic against me,” Levi said at the post-game press conference. “I wanted revenge.”
And revenge was just what Levi led the Huskies in serving. After former sophomore forward Matthew Coronato got by him twice in the second period to give the Crimson the lead, Levi stopped all 14 of the Crimson’s shots on goal in the third period. His teammate Gunnarwolfe Fontaine scored his second of the game to tie the score five minutes into the third period, sending the game to overtime.
After an action-packed 3-on-3 overtime — the first of its kind in Beanpot Championship game history —the game was sent to a shootout. With the entirety of TD Garden on its feet and silenced with anticipation, Harvard’s own top-10 Hobey Baker finalist, former junior forward Sean Farrell, skated in on Levi but was stopped by the Canadian, as was Northeastern’s first shooter Jack Hughes by Gibson. In the second round, Levi refused to allow Coronato to get past him a third time, stopping the Crimson’s second attempt.
However, the Huskies’ tallied a mark with captain Aidan McDonough getting a wrister by Gibson. With the game on the line, Harvard’s choice was junior forward Alex Laferriere, who, like his teammates, could not get past Levi. The Beanpot trophy went home with the Huskies for the eighth time in program history, and the Crimson were sent packing with their tails down.
“I think it's an incredible opportunity to [have] play[ed], in that environment,” Harvard head coach Ted Donato ’91 said at the time. “For us, it's certainly a learning experience. If we want to have success at the end of the year, we're going to have to play in tough environments and play in high stress situations.”
“I think we'll look back at this as a real growing opportunity,” he said. However, for the remainder of the season, heartbreak would become a recurring theme.
In the weeks following the Beanpot bungle, the Crimson played some of its best hockey of the whole season. The team rode a four-game winning streak to finish out the regular season, taking on and taking down four ECAC opponents: Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, St. Lawrence University, and Clarkson University, respectively. With the win over Union, it secured a first-round bye in the ECAC Tournament.
In the second round and quarterfinals of the contest, Harvard hosted the Princeton University Tigers, and sent them back to New Jersey in decisive fashion, needing only the first two of the potential three-game series. With the series win, the Crimson earned a spot in the semis in Lake Placid, and the team headed back to the famous Herb Brooks arena with high hopes to defend their ECAC title.
Taking on rival No. 10/11 Cornell in the semi-finals, the No. 6 Crimson were ready for a dog-fight. Though winning both regular season games against the Big Red, Harvard had already lost the 2022-23 Ivy League Crown to Cornell, as it is awarded relative to conference points.
The Crimson, a dominant force in the Ivy League, struggled with putting away its conference foes in regulation, having beaten Cornell, Princeton, and Yale in overtime, as well as dropping a pivotal game against Brown on January 21st. At the end of the season, they were short of the Ivy title by a single point.
The game remained scoreless through regulation, as Gibson again put on show to match Cornell goalkeep Ian Shane save for save. Laferriere secured the team’s championship appearance with a quick goal in the first five minutes of overtime, capping off a swift passing sequence with first-year Joe Miller and senior captain and forward Baker Shore.
The Crimson faced the unranked Colgate Raiders in the finals the next night. Having upset the No. 2 — and eventual 2022-23 NCAA Champions — Quinnipiac Bobcats the night before, the underdog Raiders came in hoping to continue its unexpected momentum. Scoring within the first minute of the game to gain a lead they refused to give up, Colgate continued to roll, beating Harvard with a final score of 3-2.
Unlike in 2021-2022, when its ECAC title triumph automatically secured its spot in the NCAA tournament, Harvard’s regular season success persuaded the selection committee to grant it a playoff berth. The No. 7 Crimson took on No. 8 Ohio State in the first round in Bridgeport, CT., on Friday, March 24th.
The game provided a crushing end to a season that had started with so much hope, as the Crimson fell to the Buckeyes 8-1. By the end of the second period, it was 7-1. Harvard’s typical explosive offense was completely silenced; its lockdown defense beat. Gibson was pulled for the start of the third for junior goalkeeper Derek Mullahy, though returning to the goal with five minutes remaining for the final minutes of his collegiate career.
“It’s a career-ending loss that was probably the worst loss I’ve had in my hockey career so far,” said former 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.”
After the end of the season, the Crimson saw five of its stars sign professional contracts. Farrell, after being named ECAC and Ivy League Player of the Year, signed and made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens. His first-linemate Coronato did just the same with the Calgary Flames, and Laferriere followed suit with the Los Angeles Kings. By signing, all three chose pro over their remaining collegiate years, with Farrell and Laferriere being juniors, and Coronato a sophomore.
Former senior captain and ECAC Defensive Defenseman of the Year Henry Thrun joined the San Jose Sharks for their final weeks of the season, while Gibson signed an amateur tryout contract with the Washington Capitals and joined their AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Farinacci was expected to sign with the Arizona Coyotes — the club that drafted him in 2019 — but failed to come to an agreement.
Graduating alongside Thrun, Gibson, and Farinacci will be forward and captain Baker Shore, first-pair defenseman Ryan Siedam, forwards Wyllum Deveaux and Austin Wong, and defensemen Jace Foskey. After the loss — though neither originally drafted by NHL organizations — Shore and Deveaux signed minor league tryout deals. Shore signed with the South Carolina Stingrays, an ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, while Deveaux inked a deal with the Wheeling Nailers, an ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think this [was] a really special group. I think coaches say that kind of normally, but I think this group is probably as close a group as I've been able to be around as coach 19 years,” said Donato in the Ohio State post-game press conference.
“It was a really close group. We had a group of guys that felt it was a privilege to play for Harvard and treated [that] way,” he continued. “This season won't be defined by this [NCAA first round loss]. It's disappointing, but these guys have had a great year and certainly, I'm proud of not only their performance but how they care for each other and how they carry themselves- they were an amazing group to coach.”
All in all, the Crimson’s season was filled with highs and lows, provided by a team of majority returning players. Next year — down 11 familiar faces and names on the roster — Harvard will look to have another surprisingly successful season as it did in 2021-22, filled with younger players. Newly-named captains, sophomore defenseman Ian Moore and sophomore forward Zakary Karpa, will look to set the expectations in the locker room and excite their teammates for the potential success the 2023-24 season can bring.
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