PRINCETON, N.J. — Down 2-0 on the road, but set to enjoy a lengthy 5-on-3 power play to open the second period, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni knew his team wouldn’t get a better chance to turn the game around.
“We didn’t play with a real good edge in the first period, and we got what we deserved,” Mazzoleni said. “[The 5-on-3] helped us get a real big momentum change.”
Just 49 seconds into the second period, and with just eight seconds left on the 5-on-3, Chris Bala found Peter Capouch for a cross-ice pass. Capouch was able to bury it, and Harvard was on its way. A four-goal second period was enough for the Crimson, as they defeated the Princeton Tigers, 4-3, at Baker Rink.
The loss was the seventh in a row for the Tigers, their first such skid since 1987-88, and Princeton’s worst stretch since going 0-9-1 during the 1995-96 season.
Following the Capouch goal, the Crimson didn’t score in the remaining power-play time, but the tone was set for the second period. A few minutes later, the teams traded penalties, and Harry Schwefel took advantage of the open ice, stealing a puck at center and making a nice move around a Princeton defender before putting a backhander in for a 2-2 game.
“I give Harry a lot of credit,” said Mazzoleni. “It probably hasn’t been the type of senior year he had hoped for, but he’s been a great team player, he’s shut his mouth, he’s been very positive … and when we’ve used him like tonight, he’s responded very, very well.”
Harvard (9-7-1, 8-3-1 ECAC) would continue with the territorial edge, but suffered a scare when freshman Tyler Kolarik went down with what appeared to be a nasty knee injury. But, after going to the bench for a few shifts, Kolarik was back on the ice. Apparently, the Princeton defense thought he was still on the bench, because he caught them napping, as he slipped in the slot to convert a centering feed for a 3-2 Harvard lead.
“We have the offensive skills to counter off other people’s mistakes,” Mazzoleni said, “but I don’t want to take the offensive side and start cheating and then get caught with our shorts down and get nailed on it. On the reverse end, we approach things to take care of the defensive side first, and then, off other teams’ mistakes, we jump on it.”
Princeton (5-10-3, 4-5-2 ECAC) got the goal back just over a minute later on a similar play, with Dion Del Monte scoring for the Tigers. But just as Princeton looked like it had righted the ship, and with an opportunity to take a lead before the intermission, a lapse at the blue line allowed Dominic Moore to go in for a shorthanded goal, his ninth overall goal of the season.
“I guess I got a lucky bounce on the clear there and I was sort of off to the races,” said Moore, who had a three-point night. “I got a little bit of room. Stathos is a good goalie, a real aggressive goalie, so I thought if I gave him a little bit of a fake he’d come out and I’d have a little bit of room to tuck it home. Fortunately, that’s what happened.”
Tigers coach Len Quesnelle, who saw his team sleepwalk through a pair of embarrassing home losses to Bowling Green last weekend, 8-3 and 5-0, was happy with the effort in the third period, but Princeton was never able to get through Harvard’s bottleneck.
“It was like night and day from last weekend to tonight,” Quesnelle said. “The players in that locker room showed up to play, and when they play hard, they can play with anybody. Now we just need to be smarter in certain situations. [We allowed] a 5-on-3 goal, a 4-on-4 goal, a shorthanded goal, and a 5-on-5 goal off a power play.”
Princeton looked strong early, netting first-period goals from Chris Owen and David Schnedier. But with Thomas Colclough already out on a slashing penalty, the turning point came when goalie Dave Stathos was called for delay of game. Not only did it create a 5-on-3, but Quesnelle was forced to put someone in the box that was already on the ice, meaning, one of his top penalty killers. He decided it should be a forward, and he chose Shane Campbell over Ethan Doyle.
“We thought Ethan would have more spot-to-spot quickness 5-on-3 than Shane, and I wasn’t about to put a defenseman in the box,” Quesnelle said.
Princeton had two very good chances to tie it in the closing minutes. Harvard goalie Oliver Jonas made a great stop on one play, then, with just over a minute remaining, Chris Corrinet came in on a breakaway, only to have the puck roll off his stick as he attempted a backhand.
Goaltending woes have contributed to Princeton’s slump. After a strong start, the junior Stathos has been shaky lately. He made progress Friday night, but there’s still room for improvement.
“Stats was good, but I’ve seen him play better,” said Quesnelle.
The first four of Princeton’s losses in the streak were to ranked teams — RPI, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and North Dakota. So, certainly Princeton, while not happy about it, could be excused. But those losses seemed to snowball into last week’s disaster.
“We certainly lost a little bit of confidence in that stretch,” Quesnelle said. “I think you saw that last week. Not to take anything away from Bowling Green, but we didn’t show up to play at all. This team needs to play tough in this rink. Very simple. And I thought we did that tonight. But we don’t have much to show for it right now.”
Harvard, meanwhile, stretched its first-place lead to six points over Cornell and Vermont, though those teams have five and four games, respectively, in hand. The Big Red defeated Vermont on Friday in overtime to pull even in second place.
“The first goal is to get home ice, but the way we’re thinking this year is first place,” Moore said. “We’re in first place right now, and we intend on staying there, and these two points will help.”