CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard needed to beat Vermont on Friday night. Its sophomore class made sure it did.
Second-year players Tyler Kolarik, Tim Pettit, Rob Fried and Kenny Smith all scored goals in the Crimson’s 6-0 win before a sellout crowd of 2,776 at Bright Hockey Center.
The victory snapped Harvard’s three-game losing streak and gave the Crimson (10-9-3, 9-5-2 ECAC) its first win since Jan. 12 against Yale. Moreover, Clarkson’s 3-3 tie with Union, and Dartmouth’s 3-1 loss to Brown mean that Harvard is in sole possession of second place in the ECAC standings.
“I was very pleased with the way our team played,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. “We knew coming into this game that if we have aspirations of a first- or second-place [finish in the ECAC], that this was a must-win for our team.
“I thought we came out with a real attitude tonight. We had a great four-line rotation and played with a lot of energy and on-puck intensity. We kept the puck moving and got it to their net.”
The win was also Harvard’s first over the Catamounts (3-19-2, 3-11-1 ECAC) since Nov. 6, 1999. On the flip side, Vermont has yet to record a win on the road this season and is now 0-9-1 away from Gutterson Field House.
“I thought we played well for the first eight or 10 minutes,” said Vermont coach Mike Gilligan. “Then they hit us and slowed us down. They did a real nice job of getting it low in our zone and working on our defensemen. We let in a couple soft goals, but they also forced us into making some mistakes. I thought their forwards played extremely well. [Harvard] is a talented team.”
The Cats almost jumped out to an early lead, as they dominated some early stages of the game. However, Harvard sophomore goaltender Will Crothers was brilliant between the pipes in making 18 saves and recording his first collegiate shutout.
“During the first five minutes I thought by far they had the better chances,” Mazzoleni said. “They had a couple real good scoring opportunities and [Crothers] shut the door on them. I thought we took control of the game from that point forward.”
Shortly after that critical juncture, the Crimson put up two goals and never looked back.
After gaining possession at his own blue line, Kolarik skated through the neutral zone and fired a wrister from just above the left hash marks. The puck rang the post before going into the cage behind Catamount goaltender Shawn Conschafter with 8:12 to play in the frame.
“I was just looking to get the puck to the net,” said Kolarik, now the team’s leading scorer with 24 points. “I made an inside-out move on the defenseman and got myself to the dot. Coach [Nate] Leaman and coach [Ron] Rolston have been working with me on just shooting the puck. It was just one of those bounces.”
Just over a minute later, Fried — Kolarik’s former teammate at Deerfield Academy — gave Harvard a 2-0 advantage when he put a rebound past Conschafter at 12:54 of the first.
Between periods, Gilligan decided to pull Conschafter in favor of senior Tim Peters.
“I thought [Conschafter] let in a soft [goal] with the off-angle one [by Kolarik], and then I saw the puck hit a couple of pipes,” Gilligan said. “I thought he came back and played really well during the last part of the first, but I just thought that he wasn’t really on his game.”
The switch didn’t help. Harvard went ahead 3-0 with 2:13 to play in the second period when Smith’s shot from the right point beat Peters through a Dennis Packard screen. The power-play goal was Harvard’s first in 223:42, a drought dating back to the third period of the win over Yale.
Kolarik began the third-period scoring at 7:14 of the final frame, as junior winger Aaron Kim — yet another Deerfield alum — set him up by drawing Peters’ attention in front before feathering a picture-perfect pass. Kolarik authoritatively buried it in the back of the net for the four-goal cushion.
The Crimson wasn’t finished. Pettit scored twice during the middle stages of the period — at 9:45 and 10:55 — for the final margin of victory. Harvard’s power play was 3-for-6 on the evening, while Vermont was kept off the board in five tries.
After looking sluggish in its first three games following the January exam break, the Crimson seemed to click on Friday night. Kolarik attributed the turnaround to a renewed attitude and commitment to the team concept.
“We played as a team tonight, bottom line,” he said. “At times, we’ve shown that we can be a team out there, but at other times we don’t play as a unit of five and that kills us. We just have to keep playing as a unit of five. That’s something special.
“Some things needed to change for us to be successful. We pledged each other tonight that we were going to be a team out there. We weren’t looking for who was going to score goals. We were just going to go out there and do our jobs.”
Crothers’ shutout was his first since playing junior hockey with the Aurora Tigers. Mazzoleni plans to reward him for that with a start in Monday evening’s Beanpot consolation matchup with Boston College.
“Will is going to go on Monday,” Mazzoleni said. “He earned it tonight. I told him that he earned it. He played well in there.
“We’ve alternated our goaltenders [with Dov Grumet-Morris], but now we have to go with whoever’s playing the best. That’s a very big game for us on Monday. We have to come out and play well. He has a right to be in there.”
Harvard junior center Dominic Moore — the team’s second-leading scorer — was a healthy scratch for Friday night’s game.
“That was a coach’s decision,” Mazzoleni said. “Dom will play Monday. Dom’s a good man and he’ll be ready to play.”
Peters stopped 23 shots, while Conschafter — who posted a 44-save masterpiece in Vermont’s 5-1 win over Harvard in November — finished with a one-period total of 14.
The Catamounts will travel down I-95 to face Brown Saturday night.