CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Coming off a rough-and-tumble affair with Union, the Harvard Crimson engaged in a quick-skating, up-tempo transition game against Rensselaer. The result was the same — a Crimson victory, by a 3-1 score — even if the games themselves had vastly different feels.
Harvard (7-3-0, 7-2-0 ECAC) took over first place in the ECAC with the victory, moving two points ahead of Yale for the conference lead. Rensselaer (6-8-1, 1-4-1) fell despite a strong transition attack throughout the game.
Harvard opened up the scoring midway through the first period when forward Tom Cavanagh skated into the Engineer end and passed the puck back to Noah Welch at the blue line. Welch fired a hard cross-ice pass down to Tyler Kolarik, who was sitting on RPI goalie Nathan Marsters’ doorstep, and Kolarik redirected the puck into the net before Marsters had time to slide across the crease.
The Crimson added another goal at 18:00 of the first when winger Rob Flynn found the puck amid traffic in front of the net and banged it home for his first point of the season.
RPI increased the pressure on Harvard in the second period, aided by numerous Crimson infractions. Harvard was penalized for too many men on the ice on one occasion, as well as two penalties, one for hooking and one for roughing, 11 seconds apart.
It was those two penalties that led to the RPI goal, as the Engineers took advantage of Harvard’s reduced numbers on a 5-on-3 power play. With the Crimson playing a triangle defense to cut down passing lanes, the Engineers kept the puck in the Harvard zone for almost a minute and a half before Kevin Croxton directed a cross-ice blue-line pass that captain Danny Eberly one-timed past Harvard goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris.
With the score 2-1, the Engineers continued the pressure on Harvard, keeping the game a back-and-forth affair with numerous odd-man rushes for both sides.
“I thought when it was 2-1, we had three or four real good opportunities to tie the game up,” RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. “You get a bounce here or there, and it’s a tie ballgame.”
A tie was not in the cards for the Engineers, however, as Crimson center Brett Nowak capped off a five-point weekend with a goal to ice the game at 17:24 of the third.
“They played very well defensively,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “We didn’t have as many quality scoring chances as we are used to. We were able to put them away in the last two minutes, so I was very pleased with that.”
Nowak’s goal came almost immediately after an odd-man rush for the Engineers. A clutch save by Grumet-Morris, who stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced, turned the RPI break around and forward Tim Pettit entered the Engineer end on the left side. He stopped and dropped a pass back to the middle for the trailing Nowak. Just in front of Nowak, Harvard winger Andrew Lederman got entangled with an RPI defender and Nowak was cleared for a shot that found its way past Marsters and iced that game for Harvard.
“It’s the sign of a good team that can absorb an offensive chance and turn it around and score a goal right away,” Grumet-Morris said.
The Crimson will have a chance to prove Grumet-Morris correct next weekend, as they head to Princeton and Yale — the latter one a game that could determine the early ECAC standings leader. The Engineers will look to rebound with a home game Saturday against Union, followed by hosting Boston University next Tuesday.