CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Ladies and gentlemen, Harvard is back. But for the moment, Boston College is still better — just barely.
In a game reminiscent of the classic BC-Harvard battles of the late 1980s, the Eagles tied up the score with just 42 seconds left in the third period and freshman Chuck Kobasew scored the game-winner with 3:19 left in overtime to give No. 4 Boston College a stunning win over Harvard in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Bright Hockey Center not seen since the Crimson’s days as an NCAA contender.
Kobasew took a shot from the left faceoff circle through traffic that senior netminder Oliver Jonas seemed to get a piece of, but managed to squirt over the goal line amidst the crowd in front of the net for the win.
“I thought it was a terrific college hockey game; the venue was outstanding,” BC coach Jerry York said. “Both teams created a lot of good offensive chances, and we tied it, brought it to overtime. But there is no question in my mind that that was two NCAA-caliber teams out there.”
Moments before, the Crimson appeared to have Boston bragging rights sewn up, having beaten Boston University earlier in the week and being up 2-1 late in the third. But with just 42 seconds left in the game and goaltender Scott Clemmensen on the bench, Ben Eaves found senior Mike Lephart on the doorstep for his second goal of the night to send the game into overtime.
Crimson assistant captain Chris Bala had thought his tally would be the winner, as he found the back of the net off a pass from sophomore Brett Nowak at 10:47 of the final period. Bala has been a bit of an Eagle killer through his career, scoring the game-winner in Harvard’s overtime upset of BC in the 1998 Beanpot semifinals as a freshman.
“We had them right where we wanted, but a physical error decided the game,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “A guy got beat off the wall and they score. But they carry so much experience into a game. We haven’t done this yet, but we’re getting there.”
The Eagles, however, had plenty of fight left in them and bombarded Jonas over the last 10 minutes of the game. Freshman Tony Voce had a golden chance with six minutes to go, but he one-timed his shot wide from the slot with an empty goal.
The Crimson was able to counterpunch with a few golden opportunities to ice the game itself. But Clemmensen was spectacular in stopping Harvard’s breakaway chances for a 23-save night.
Jonas, however, turned in a command performance, making a career-high 44 saves, including 22 in the first period alone. He just couldn’t squeeze the final shot.
“It was pretty intense; they had the puck down low a lot,” Jonas said. “I never saw the last shot.”
As Harvard evened the play in the second period, and it became clear that two excellently matched teams were battling, the tempers started to flare in true BC-Harvard fashion. With about six minutes left in the second, a penalty-laden game turned up a notch, and ended with Brooks Orpik decking Kim after the Crimson sophomore defenseman received a five-minute major for spearing and a game disqualification. The Eagles were tabbed for two minor penalties (Orpik and Voce), actually leaving Harvard up a man during the initial part of the major penalty.
While the Eagles had by far the better pressure on the dueling power plays, the best chances went to Harvard on the shorthand as two of its top goal-scorers, Bala and sophomore winger Dominic Moore, both had breakaways, but Clemmensen was equal to the task.
“Ben Eaves made an unbelievable play at the end to tie the game,” York said. “That was one of the marquee games of the year. If that was a Beanpot we’d be talking about it forever.”
BC initially held the edge territorially as its crisp, cross-ice passing startled the Harvard defense. The Eagles got on the board first with an even-strength goal. BC captain Brian Gionta, from behind the goal line, found Lephart on the doorstep and Lephart outmuscled Kim to roof the puck at 18:02.
Rookie Kenny Turano picked a good time to get his first collegiate goal for Harvard. Off a mixup at the blue line, Turano ended up with a breakaway and buried it at 8:53 of the second.
In a game that ended up being decided by one goal, the Crimson was denied a shorthander with 13:08 of the first period. A shot by assistant captain Peter Capouch appeared to cross the goal line before squirting out; referee Drew Taylor initially signaled the goal, but because his view was partially obscured by Clemmensen, he appealed to the goal judge, who disallowed it.
The loss snapped a four-game unbeaten streak for Harvard, looking to regain lost credibility among schools in Boston and on the East Coast. The win over BU was one step in the process, as was Saturday’s result despite the loss.
In addition to playing its normal games with Beantown rivals, BU, BC and Northeastern, Mazzoleni added powerhouse New Hampshire to the Crimson’s schedule, replacing Umass-Amherst. Harvard visits the Wildcats on Dec. 14.
“We are a night-and-day different team from where were last year,” Mazzoleni said. “We’re not BC, yet, but we have our sights on them.”
The game was Harvard’s first sellout of the year.