CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Brown University made a statement to the ECAC Saturday night with a 4-2 road upset of No. 11 Harvard. The season opener for both teams seesawed back and forth in an emotional and physical battle at Bright Hockey Center.
After Harvard freshman forward Brendan Bernakevitch evened it up at 2-2 early in the third, it appeared the nationally-ranked Crimson could put away the underdog Bears.
The action remained heavily concentrated in the Brown zone for several minutes after the game-tier. Brown senior goaltender Brian Eklund stood tall for the remaining 15 minutes, kicking out 27 of 29 shots in total.
And a little past the halfway point of the third a flurry in front of the Brown cage turned into a three-on-one opportunity for Brown’s top line, which was especially effective tonight. Sophomore winger Pascal Denis streaked down the right wing and fired a shot by Harvard’s Will Crothers, who was making just his second career start.
The puck deflected off a Crimson defender’s stick and bounced into the back of the net to make the score 3-2. The goal was the first of Denis’ young career.
“It feels great to put that goal behind me,” Denis said. “I just wanted to get a good shot off, because I saw [Tye] Korbl coming in and was hoping I could get a rebound.”
Harvard worked for several good chances in the remaining eight and a half minutes. Dennis Packard had a chance on a rush in front, and in the last 30 seconds sophomore Tyler Kolarik made a great move in front, but in a final stickhandling move before taking a shot, the puck was inadvertently deflected away.
“It was chaotic at the end,” Eklund, a Boston-area native with a pack of fans in the crowd, said. “Luckily we got a stick or a skate on that shooter, because he was in great position. It was a good team effort at the end to keep them out of the net.”
“Most of our offensive struggles stemmed from how they did such a good job in the defensive zone in front of Eklund — we didn’t use our points well,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “They were trying to limit our second chances all game. Their goaltender played really well for them.”
In the final moments, after a faceoff, defenseman Scott Ford, in an attempt to clear the puck, fired a bank shot off the glass which slid right in the middle of an empty Harvard net to make finish the scoring at 4-2.
Junior forward Dominic Moore, who led Harvard in scoring last season, gave the Crimson a 1-0 lead on a five-on-three chance midway through the first. A perimeter shot, aided by a mess of bodies in front of Eklund, snuck through.
“We should’ve got to the net a little more,” said Moore. “It was one of those nights that our shots just weren’t going in and we couldn’t get to the rebounds.”
Brown also had a five-on-three opportunity in the first, but failed to convert and the frame ended with Harvard on top.
In the second the Bears came out looking much stronger, and cashed in on two early opportunities. Junior Keith Kirley, the third piece of Brown’s top line, also featuring Korbl and Denis, had a dominant shift, in which he held on to the puck in the Harvard zone and wore down the defense with pressure. Eventually, a pass from Kirley from behind the net found its way to Korbl in the slot, who fired a slapper by Crothers.
Five minutes later, Brown forward Chris Legg came flying down on a rush along the right wing. Legg cut in front, losing control of the puck slightly, but circled back and recovered by throwing a pass in front to senior forward J-F Labarre. Labarre, one of three seniors in the lineup for Brown, was rewarded for going hard to the net. Suddenly the underdog Bears were up 2-1.
Brown kept that lead until the third, despite giving up several turnovers to Harvard which resulted in nothing. Eklund and the Brown defensive unit, led by sophomores Vince Macri and Scott Ford, were especially strong under pressure throughout the game.
Both teams were missing their captains. Peter Capouch was out of the lineup with a groin pull for Harvard, while key defenseman Josh Barker sat out with an injury he suffered during a scrimmage versus the Crimson a week before.
“I thought battled to the end,” Mazzoleni said. “We didn’t look by them in an way. Our guys knew we had to play. The just beat us.”
“We took some lumps last year,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo, who kept his team battling last year despite just four wins and losing 13 one-goal games. “It feels great to win a big one here now. We have some guys that are exciting to watch and committed to turning this into a winning program.”