CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — It was the longest game in Harvard Hockey’s 104-year history. Legendary Harvard coach Billy Cleary said after the first overtime that he couldn’t remember a longer contest at Bright Hockey Center. But this one lasted so long — 94:41 to be exact — that the 1,594 in attendance probably couldn’t remember when referee Scott Hansen dropped the puck at 7 p.m.
And when all was said and done, everyone who stayed at Bright until 11 p.m. Saturday night saw the greatest performance by an opposing goaltender in Harvard’s history, then witnessed a tremendous individual effort by the Crimson’s best player to spoil it.
In other words, Harvard has junior center Dominic Moore to thank. He solved Brown’s unsolvable Yann Danis — who made an improbable 66 stops on the night — at 14:41 of the second overtime to beat the Bears, 2-1, and sweep their first round series.
After the Crimson dominated play from the second period on and peppered Danis with 19 shots in the first overtime period, Moore decided to take matters into his own hands. He fired a shot from the slot that Danis saved, but retrieved the rebound and circled the net. Back in front, Moore again put a shot on net that Danis was able to stop. Moore, however, hustled after the rebound a second time.
This time, he refused to be denied. Moore slipped the puck past Danis’ left pad to send the Bright crowd into a frenzy and his team to Lake Placid for the second year in a row.
“I made two loops — one for each overtime,” Moore said with a laugh following the game. “I just wasn’t going to be stopped.”
Following the game, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni was very complimentary of Brown coach Roger Grillo and his team.
“I have tremendous respect for Roger and what he’s done at Brown,” Mazzoleni said. “We knew after last night’s game that they were going to do everything possible to win. I’m sure he’s very proud of his team the way they battled. I thought they had control of the first period, but that our kids took control after that.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” continued Mazzoleni, whose team won two straight games for the first time since Jan. 4-5. “We did what we had to do. We deserve to go to Lake Placid the way we played this weekend. It was a major step forward for us.”
Said Grillo, “I think everybody was tired. I give credit to Harvard. I think they played a tremendous two games. My hat goes off to them.
“I was happy with the way our guys came out and battled tonight. We played hard. I was a little disappointed in the first overtime, but I think we came out well in the second overtime. I’m proud of the way our guys responded and the way they played.”
Brown (14-15-2, 10-10-2 ECAC) was one of college hockey’s great success stories this season, which gave Grillo some consolation after the tough loss.
“I think this game speaks volumes about the character of the kids we have in this locker room,” said Grillo, whose team won 10 more games this season than it did in 2000-01. “We’ve played some tough hockey and we have some young kids. The lumps we took last year helped us this year, and the lumps we took this year will help us next year. I’m very proud of the guys and our staff and what we’ve done.”
The game certainly wore on the players, both physically and mentally, even the seemingly bionic Danis.
“It’s harder to concentrate as the game goes on because you get more and more tired,” said Danis, who broke the record for saves by a Harvard opponent previously held by a Pennsylvania goaltender from 1970. “You just have to stay focused.”
Brown began the scoring in dramatic fashion, on a penalty shot by sophomore winger Brent Robinson with no time remaining in the second period.
The stage was set for Robinson’s heroics when Harvard (13-14-4, 10-9-3 ECAC) captain Peter Capouch was whistled for tripping him on a breakaway.
With the crowd on its feet, Robinson sprinted to address the puck at center ice. Crimson freshman goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris responded to Robinson’s energy and came out aggressively to challenge him. Robinson, though, deftly pulled the puck back and slipped it past the Harvard netminder five-hole to give his team its first lead of the series.
The Crimson came out with a fury to begin the third and had several chances to tie the game. Just over five minutes in, junior centerman Brett Nowak finally did. With wingers Tyler Kolarik and Brendan Bernakevitch creating traffic in front of Danis, Nowak followed up his own shot and potted the rebound to make it 1-1 with 14:30 to play in the third.
“Nowak’s a tough kid down low,” Grillo said. “He’s probably one of the best kids I’ve seen in college hockey in the last six or seven years as far as controlling play down low. He’s a tough guy to knock off the puck.”
Mazzoleni was complimentary of Nowak, as well.
“Brett has incredibly quick hands,” he said. “He has a big frame and he’s really learned how to get over the puck. He gets the puck on net.”
Brown had a good chance to regain the lead when Harvard defenseman Dave McCulloch was whistled for high sticking at 8:56. The Bears, however, weren’t able to get anything going on the man advantage and it remained a 1-1 game.
The Crimson got its own try on the power play several minutes later when Brown’s Keith Kirley went off for his third penalty of the night with 6:54 remaining. But that was when Danis showed exactly why he was the nation’s hottest goaltender for much of February.
The Lafontaine, Que., native stopped two shots from 15 feet by Harvard freshman defenseman Noah Welch before stoning Kolarik on the doorstep. The Crimson called its timeout with 5:57 to play in the third, but that didn’t even help it solve Danis, who then denied Harvard sniper Tim Pettit before the power play expired.
Both teams played very physically through the rest of the third. Pettit had perhaps the best chance in the final minutes, as he nearly put back a rebound in front with 2:12 remaining. Danis, however, was able to turn the puck aside and finish with 15 saves in the third period.
Robinson’s tally came after two periods of very tight defensive play.
Kolarik — an ECAC All-Tournament selection last season after notching three goals and seven assists during the playoffs — had perhaps the best chance for the either team in the opening frame, as he rung the crossbar behind Danis 2:29 into the game.
The Bears, known for predicating their offensive chances from strong play in their own end, played a much stronger first period than they had on Friday night. Brown was more physical and was able to sustain its possessions in the Harvard end, though Crimson Grumet-Morris, now undefeated in his last four home starts and 7-2 at Bright Hockey Center this season, was up to the challenge and stopped all eight Bear shots in the opening frame.
After the 13-minute mark of the first period, though, official scorer John Peterson became the busiest man at Bright Hockey Center, as he recorded eight penalties — four for each team — in a span of five minutes. The special teams bonanza began with matching minors to Nowak and Brown defenseman Scott Ford at 13:30 and featured five-on-four power plays for each team, as well as a four-on-three for Harvard, a four-on-four, and a rare three-on-three. The Crimson, however, could not duplicate its special teams prowess of Game 1, when it finished the game 2-for-3 on the man advantage. The Bears could not capitalize, either, and the game remained scoreless through the first 20 minutes.
Kolarik had the Crimson’s best chance of the second period, as Nowak hit him with a great feed as he skated in on Danis all alone with 1:15 to play. The Bear netminder, though, was equal to the task and turned his bid aside to keep the game scoreless.
Grumet-Morris finished the game with 31 saves for Harvard.
“I thought Grumet-Morris, as a freshman, did a very, very good job for us and made some key saves,” Mazzoleni said. “That’s a tough game to play for a goalie when the puck is on their side for that long. His concentration level and focus were outstanding.”
“I was just trying to concentrate on the basics and stay mentally alert,” Grumet-Morris said. “Every time a period ends you just want to go out there with a clean slate and focus on winning that 20 minutes.”
The Crimson will play Clarkson in the ECAC Semifinals at 4 p.m. on Friday.