BOSTON — Harvard has never faced Yale in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, but an ancient rivalry is about to take a new twist.
The Crimson tied Princeton, 2-2, Saturday night in a wild game at Bright Hockey Center that saw a combined total of 79 shots put on net and some vicious checks at both ends of the ice. Thanks to a typically-bizarre ECAC finish, the tie left both teams right where they started entering the contest.
Harvard (13-14-2, 11-8-2 ECAC) remained in third place with its first winning record in conference since 1994-95 and will host Yale on Friday. The Tigers (10-14-5, 9-9-4) finish in seventh and have the privilege of traveling to Cornell’s Lynah Rink.
“We deserved to finish in third place,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “Our kids earned it. Now we have to take care of business and win two in our building.”
The Crimson, though, was on its way to the ECAC bronze via a victory before a third-period comeback sent everyone scoreboard watching.
Harvard entered the third period up 2-0, on the strength of a pair of second-period goals, but the Tigers had been able to imprint their style of hard-checking, rough-and-tumble hockey on the game. Comfortable in that violent environment, Princeton calmly went about tying the game.
Junior Brad Parsons started the Tigers on the comeback trail, going coast-to-coast just 2:21 into the third period. He slipped past defenseman Blair Barlow and beat Harvard goalie Oli Jonas short side.
Senior Shane Campbell sent the game spiraling into overtime when he one-timed home a pass from classmate Ethan Doyle in the slot at 10:34 with both teams down a man.
“The hitting has always been a trademark of our team,” Princeton coach Len Quesnelle said. “When we can establish our physical play, it gives us the best chance to win.”
Neither goal did anything to change the style of play as referee Scott Hansen let both teams take as many liberties with each other as they could devise.
In overtime, Princeton switched to a football defense — tackle the man in the slot — and executed it to perfection. Harvard picked up on the strategy and generated the best scoring chance of overtime off it. Leading scorer Dominic Moore literally threw his defender out of the way and walked around goalie Dave Stathos, but missed the open net
“The referee let the game go,” Mazzoleni said. “We haven’t seen that in a long time. But both teams adjusted. It didn’t give an advantage to either team.”
Both goaltenders needed to be spectacular in this game as the shotsgame in 13 apiece in the first period and neither side really relented. The puck frequently bounced around the net and Jonas and Stathos had to scramble to keep the swarming attack from knocking home any more rebounds.
“When each side nearly gets 40 shots (Princeton had 39), it is a credit to the way the goaltenders played,” Mazzoleni said. “I wish I didn’t have to keep praising Jonas for facing 40 shots, though.”
After a sloppy first period, Harvard seemed to have seized control of the game in the second, which featured by far the most open ice and skating. Assistant captain Chris Bala put Harvard on the board first redirecting a pass from Rookie of the Year candidate Tim Pettit at 5:28.
Freshman Rob Fried put the Crimson ahead 2-0 by kicking a rebound to his stick and rifling the shot past Stathos at 10:34.
Fried’s score was the fourth of what some have termed a disappointing rookie season, after the Florida Panthers drafted him in the third round before he ever donned a Crimson jersey. The goal was prototypical Fried, hounding in front of the net for any stray pucks. He just hasn’t found a pairing that can maximize his style of play.
“I thought our fourth line of Fried, Jeff Stonehouse and Jared Cantanucci was our best tonight,” Mazzoleni said. “They didn’t play much [Friday] night against Yale, sometimes that redoubles your focus to perform.”
Princeton played its second straight game without its captain and leading scorer, Kirk Lamb. Lamb was out with a knee injury and will be evaluated midweek to see if he can play against the Big Red on Friday.
“We battled back from a 2-0 deficit on the road against a good team,” Quesnelle said. “That we did it with our captain out is just a further credit to our character.”
After the conclusion of the contest, Harvard honored its graduating seniors — captain Steve Moore, defenseman Tim Stay, center Harry Schwefel, Bala and Jonas.