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Eyeing Late-Season Run, Harvard Gears Up for ECAC and NCAA Playoffs

Michael Callow handles the puck in a Jan. 26 game against Cornell. The first-year notched an assist against Clarkson.
Michael Callow handles the puck in a Jan. 26 game against Cornell. The first-year notched an assist against Clarkson. By Courtesy Harvard Athletics

At a now-or-never point in the season, Harvard men’s ice hockey (5-16-4, 5-9-4 ECAC) must strive for near-perfect play. It came close to being perfect this past weekend, notching a one-goal win over St. Lawrence but falling to Clarkson by the same margin. Except for a blowout loss to No. 1-ranked Boston College in the consolation round of the Beanpot last week, Harvard has kept it close against ranked teams over the past month.

The stretch of success dates back as far as the team’s Jan. 13 contest against Yale, a 1-0 victory. The team followed it up with a dominating performance against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 6-3, and an OT loss to the currently No. 5-ranked Union the next night.

Harvard also went on to close out the home-and-home season series against Dartmouth on Feb. 9th, the second straight contest against the Big Green ending in a shootout, with the first being the longest in Harvard program history at 18 rounds.

Just four games remain on the regular season calendar, all against teams Harvard has played before. Against these teams, Harvard already has two wins, one OT loss, and one regulation loss. The Crimson trails St. Lawrence and Yale by just a single team point, and Union and Dartmouth by three and two points, respectively, heading into the final stretch. The Saints and Bulldogs both currently sit at 24 points.

“To me, hopefully, this is something that we can build on,” Harvard Head Coach Ted Donato said after the Friday night game.

Harvard 2, St. Lawrence 1

Both teams took the ice in what would start out as a sluggish opening period. Neither team had many offensive opportunities through the first 10 minutes and no goals were scored, a testament to senior goaltender Derek Mullahy’s dominance between the pipes, which would prove to be a bright spot again for the Crimson. Last week, Donato praised Mullahy’s ability to protect the net in high pressure situations against Boston College in the consolation game of the Beanpot tournament, successfully killing three penalties.

On Friday, Mullahy took away opportunities from the Saints offense from the initial whistle, his first stop coming early on a St. Lawrence cross-ice pass. He then made another strong save against a barrage of shots, allowing him to gain possession of the puck and set up an offensive opportunity for the Crimson on the other end of the ice.

Despite the early lack of offense, a hit from behind penalty by Saints junior Tomáš Mazura gave Harvard an opportunity to score. The Crimson boasts a 27.4 percent power play rate on the season, yet even with these strong numbers on paper, Harvard was unable to produce any sustained offensive attack from the penalty. It even let up a shorthanded SLU breakaway from Saints senior right wing captain Justin Paul.

With less than a minute remaining in the first period, Mullahy faced a heavy barrage of shots from the Saints offense, but continued to stand strong and keep the puck out of the net. As time expired in the first, both teams left the ice with the score still tied at zero.

“I think at this time of year, you can't take too many chances to try to find your offense. So you got to be able to defend,” Donato said. “I thought Derek was outstanding in that. The score after the first period could have been in their favor and it wasn't so to be honest with you I think just as a staff we were really frustrated after the first period, because we talked about a lot of things as a team.”

The Crimson came out revitalized in the second period, generating some high-danger scoring opportunities while continuing to shut down St. Lawrence in the defensive zone. However, neither side was able to find the back of the net for the majority of the period. It was only in the final two minutes of the period that the Crimson finally struck, as sophomore defenseman Ryan Healey skated the puck down the right side into the offensive zone and threw the puck toward the top of the crease. The puck struck a Saints defenseman’s skate and bounced over the right shoulder of goaltender Ben Kraws to give Harvard a 1-0 lead.

It wasn’t long before St. Lawrence answered back, tying the game at one goal. Just 12 seconds after Healey’s goal, a loose puck at the Crimson’s blue line led to a breakaway for the Saints’ Jan Lasak, who had an open shot at the net. Mullahy was able to make the initial stop, but the rebound was picked up and poured in by Ty Naaykens, making the score 1-1 as the teams headed into the third period.

Harvard faced early adversity in the third when Healey was called for a slashing penalty just over a minute into the period. The Crimson’s penalty kill was up for the task, and kept St. Lawrence at bay for its only man down situation of the night. As the period wore on, Harvard’s offense continued to generate takes, striking solid shots that just wouldn’t find their way to the back of the net.

With only one minute remaining in the period, it seemed as though the game might head into overtime, with both squads playing tight defense. But then, with possession in the offensive zone, freshman forward Ryan Fine was able to clinch a win for Harvard in the last 60 seconds of play. Fine passed the puck to captain Ian Moore at the point, and Moore fired a shot to the front of the net. Junior forward Alex Gaffney stood firmly in front of the St. Lawrence goaltender, waiting for the rebound, which he tipped in with 24 seconds remaining to give the Crimson the lead. The team was able to hold for the final seconds to secure the win.

“[I]t was a big play to come up with the puck down there by Ryan Fine,” Donato said. “Ian Moore did a good job of getting it through early, quickly and, obviously, a big tip. These are things that earlier on in the season, we just weren't able to get that big goal at the right time. So this is certainly something that we'll have to do a lot more of if we want to have success coming in.”

Ryan Healey braces for battle against St. Lawrence.
Ryan Healey braces for battle against St. Lawrence. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Clarkson 3, Harvard 2

This was the third-straight game for Harvard senior goaltender Derek Mullahy. Speaking after the game about the decision, Donato explained by pointing to Mullahy’s performance against St. Lawrence. “I thought Derrick [Mullahy] played really well last night and [I] wanted to give him a chance to stay hot,” Donato said.

The first period saw little action until late, but remained a fundamentally sound game throughout. The first misstep would come at 8:16, when a penalty was called against Crimson junior center and captain Zakary Karpa for holding along the left boards of the defensive zone.

Clarkson looked to have a power play scoring opportunity when Mullahy played a puck behind the net and hit it into a Golden Knight player at the goal line. The puck was instead taken on a bounce by Harvard and dumped out of the zone and over the boards for a faceoff.

In the final seconds of Clarkson’s power play, Harvard surprised with a shorthanded goal. Sophomore right wing Joe Miller intercepted a pass in the air at the red line and took the puck up the ice on a shorthanded breakaway, ultimately scoring at 6:22 off a forehand-backhand deke.

Two Clarkson shots closed out a tight first period. The first, from Golden Knights’ junior forward Jesse Tucker at the left circle, appeared to be deflected in front of the net with a strong Golden Knight screen, but hit off the left post and into the corner.

As the clock ticked down toward the final minute, a Clarkson rebound shot from graduate student forward Anthony Romano was taken in the slot from junior forward Ryan Richardson and dumped into the net for the team’s first goal.

Momentum carried well into the second period for Harvard. Crimson first-year left wing Cameron Johnson joined the stat sheet with an opening minute goal. After an intercepted pass, first-year right wing Michael Callow took the puck into the offensive zone, passed to sophomore center Casey Severo, and then over to Johnson at the left circle.

Shortly after, first-year defenseman David Hejduk was called for holding, handing Clarkson its second power play opportunity of the night. But the Harvard penalty kill held strong and kept Clarkson without a goal after two tries.

With a full half of hockey finished, the Crimson continued to take advantage of Clarkson’s mishaps, as the Golden Knights were called twice for penalties in the final 7:12 of play with the second coming at just 1.2 seconds left in the second period. Both were also against senior defenseman Noah Beck, first for boarding and then for tripping.

The first of two power plays was unsuccessful by the end of the period, but saw strong takes for Harvard and imposing zone time, leaving Clarkson players fatigued and in a position to foul late.

The third-period penalty would also see limited action. It wasn’t until 8:23 remaining that either side appeared to take up momentum. This time, first-year right wing Ryan Fine was gifted a breakaway chance but could not convert.

Less than five minutes later, with the game seemingly in the Crimson’s hand, Clarkson struck back. Beginning in Harvard’s offensive zone, first-year center Ben MacDonald took a stab at a fleeting puck, but failed to recover on the oncoming defensive play. This gave Clarkson a tight 2-on-1 situation, with the only pass on the scoring try coming from first-year forward Daimon Gardner to the goal-scorer, sophomore forward Ryan Taylor. Taylor swiftly drove the puck into Clarkson’s offensive zone from the left side and snapped a simple wrister, stick-side high. The shot immediately beat Mullahy, who appeared to too strongly anticipate a cross-ice pass, knotting the score at two a piece less than five minutes from the end of regulation.

The contest went to overtime, and more than halfway through the 3-on-3 overtime period, Clarkson scored the game-winning goal in a routine take up the ice and shot from the right circle. Back in the Golden Knights’ defensive zone, a high puck hit off the goaltender and made Harvard’s Severo pause. This gave Clarkson brief 3-on-2 positioning. A last second dive from junior defenseman Jack Bar to block the shot was too late and Clarkson drove it home. After the game, Donato described what went wrong on the play for the Crimson.

“[W]e just made a poor decision, and had a couple of mistakes that led to a 2-on-1 against [us] so I think you can't feel bad for yourself when you give up a 2-on-1,” Donato said. “We did not manage the situation well and it's very frustrating and hard for our guys to learn these lessons the hard way.”

With playoff hockey soon approaching, the team wants to look past the tough loss and continue playing the way they’ve come to recently.

“Guys are playing their best hockey so far this year,” Mullahy said. “I think we treat it like it's a playoffs already. I think we have to because we need to get three points.”

Harvard men’s ice hockey play another slate of Friday and Saturday games, this time on the road, beginning Feb. 23 against No. 5-ranked Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Play begins both nights at 7:00 p.m. EST and will be streamed on ESPN+.

—Staff writer Nate M. Bolan can be reached at nathan.bolan@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Owen Butler can be reached at owen.butler@thecrimson.com.

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