COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The deck was stacked against Harvard from the beginning — only three full lines, four trusted defensemen, high altitude and an Olympic-size ice surface against the No. 6 team in the nation.
The Crimson managed to hang tight with Colorado College despite giving up 47 shots on goal Friday night, but the Tigers claimed the first of a two-game set, 5-3, over Harvard in front of 6,536 at Colorado Springs World Arena.
“Harvard played better than I expected,” Colorado coach Scott Owens said. “It was not your typical, nonconference Christmas affair. It was a hard-fought game, and I thought we hung in there.”
Colorado overcame a 2-1 deficit midway through the second period with two goals 1:14 apart, and the Tigers never relinquished the lead after that.
Senior Justin Morrison bagged the go-ahead goal at 7:37 of second on a wild sequence that featured numerous Harvard defensive-zone breakdowns, but the puck not resting cleanly on any Tiger stick until it settled on Morrison’s at the right faceoff circle. He quickly roofed the shot over sliding goalie Oli Jonas for his tenth goal of the year.
“The puck bounced off a lot of sticks,” Morrison said. “It just came to mine and I tried to put it up because [Jonas] was quick.”
Harvard tried to tie the game up on the counterattack and sophomore Dominic Moore nearly did so on a shorthanded breakaway, but CC picked up the insurance goal it would prove to need two minutes into the third period.
Tiger sophomore Noah Clarke blocked a shot by defenseman Aaron Kim at the point, and it was off to the races. Clarke was able to pick up the ricochet and take it down the right wing, with rookie Peter Sejna darting down the middle on a two-on-none rush and defenseman Tim Stay hustling back to try and apply some pressure.
Nevertheless, the two linemates — and former teammates from the USHL’s Des Moines Bucaneers — sealed the deal with Clarke finding Sejna in front of the net for the easy tap-in.
“Playing in this building, it is all about momentum,” Owens said. “You have to really build up energy here to get anything going and we had it by the second period. Then we lost it late in the game on the power play and we recaptured it by the end.”
Harvard looked to be losing its composure midway through the third period, with captain Steve Moore garnering a five-minute major and younger brother Dominic getting whistled seven seconds later for a holding penalty.
The Crimson penalty kill survived an extended Tiger stay in its zone and Dominic Moore, upon exiting the sin bin, collected the puck in the neutral zone and took it in for a shot. Colin Zullianello made the initial save, but the rebound popped straight up and junior assistant captain Pete Capouch bounced it home off his chest while driving the net with 5:16 left in the game.
Harvard wiped out the rest of its captain’s major penalty to give it a chance to tie the game, but Alex Kim scored an empty-net goal to ice it.
“Our team played hard,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “We were banged up, but we played through it. We battled through a lot of adversity, especially in the third period.”
The Crimson were shorthanded in all aspects of the game Friday night. While freshman defenseman Kenny Smith finally made his debut, juniors Graham Morrell and Leif Ericson both were both sidelined and freshman Dave McCulloch served his suspension for fighting at UNH on Dec. 14. Harvard dressed junior Kevin McCafferty for his varsity debut, but Mazzoleni never sent him onto the ice.
Colorado College benefited from eight Harvard penalties for 27 minutes, most occurring in the third period, but the Tigers managed just one power-play goal.
Smith, who was expected to play just a handful of shifts, was thrust onto center stage in his debut. By mid-game, he was out on the penalty kill and took more than regular shifts as the Crimson only played five defensemen. It was not only his debut, but his first hockey game in over a year. Smith had season-ending shoulder surgery last year at Christmas. He certainly was a physical presence on the ice and moved the puck well, not exhibiting much rust.
“It kind of felt surreal, I haven’t played in a hockey game in more than a year,” Smith said. “But as soon as I touched the body and touched the puck, I was fine.”
Zulianello furthered his case to be the Tigers’ top goalie. His stop on Dominic Moore on a shorthanded breakaway prevented a key momentum swing towards Harvard, and he made 30 saves on the evening
Owens, however, will remain true to the platoon he has employed this year and give junior Jeff Sanger the start Saturday night.
On the other side of the ice, Jonas continued his spectacular play. Officially credited with 42 saves, it appeared that he stopped far more than the 15 he made in the third period as the Tigers spread the Olympic-sized ice very well, moving the puck and trying to tire out the Crimson defensemen.
Chris Hartsburg opened the scoring for the Tigers at 5:51 of the first period. Rookie Tyler Kolarik netted his fourth of the season off assists by Tim Pettit and Dom Moore at 8:55, and Moore gave the Crimson a 2-1 lead on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe power-play goal from the high slot just under two minutes into the second period.
Jesse Heerema notched his fourth of the season to knot the game for CC, off assists by Morrison and Kim at 6:24.