PORTLAND, Maine — When a team scores as many goals as Maine tends to, it’s bound to get a strange one every now and then.
And whether due to the law of averages, luck or their lethal power play, the Black Bears got that goal — the game-winner, in fact — to beat Harvard, 4-2, on Sunday afternoon before 6,894 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Buzzing around the ice as it did throughout the game, Maine pressured the Crimson into taking two first-period penalties 16 seconds apart, the latter coming at 14:30.
With the Black Bears already leading 2-0 and sporting the nation’s sixth-best power play (26 percent efficiency), the outcome appeared to be academic. And it was. Just not in the most conventional way.
Maine won an offensive draw to begin the sequence and almost immediately threw a shot on net. In the ensuing scramble for the rebound, Harvard captain Dominic Moore had his stick chopped in half.
The count: three skaters, two sticks.
“After that, I was just trying to stay in their passing lanes, stay compact,” Moore said. “Bad luck on that play.”
The puck went behind the net. Crimson goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris slid to his right to stop Martin Kariya’s wrap-around try, and Kariya knocked his stick away as he crashed the net. Defenseman Ryan Lannon gave his stick to Grumet-Morris.
The count: three skaters, one stick.
“Out on a five-on-three, minus two sticks,” Grumet-Morris said, “that’s a tough situation.”
By that time, the situation may have already moved from “tough” to “hopeless,” since fully-equipped teams have had trouble stopping the Black Bears this season.
Grumet-Morris was able to stop one shot after that — with his leg, not Lannon’s stick — but the puck soon came out to Maine’s Colin Shields at the left point. Sheilds’ eyes undoubtedly got as wide as the puck, which he promptly blasted past Grumet-Morris and Lannon, who were falling over one another in a feeble attempt to get in front of the shot.
Frustrated, Grumet-Morris tossed Lannon’s stick aside.
The count: Maine 3, Harvard 0.
“That was a crazy goal,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose second-ranked team is now 13-1-2. “I don’t know when you’re going to see that again.”
The Crimson outscored (2-1) and outshot (21-17) its host the rest of the game, but in the end it was the Black Bears’ three goals in the game’s first 15:03 — two on the power play — that made the difference.
“We knew coming in how good their power play was,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. “So when you take five penalties in the first period and they pop two power-play goals, that’s tough to come back from. We dug ourselves a major hole.
“But I like the way we competed. From the second period on, it was a 2-1 game. But that’s the second period on. You have to play three periods to win a hockey game.”
Whitehead, on the other hand, had a feeling his team would come out strong from the beginning.
“The guys have been looking forward to this one for awhile,” Whitehead said. “We have a lot of respect for Harvard, and we played them in the NCAA tournament last year. And we only get to play down here in Portland once a year, so it’s very important that we put on a good showing while we’re here.”
The Black Bears showed especially well in the early going, taking a 1-0 lead just 45 seconds into the game on Shields’s first of the afternoon before moving ahead 2-0 at 9:31 on a goal from Kariya. After Shields took advantage of the short-sticked Harvard penalty kill, Maine had a three-goal lead after the first.
“I really liked that first period,” Whitehead said. “We kept the pressure on them, and that was the key. Sometimes you score a very early one like that and tend to disarm a little, but I didn’t feel we reacted that way. We continued to play hard.”
The Crimson drew to 3-1 with 9:54 left in an evenly-played second period on Kenny Turano’s first goal of the season, a one-timer from the slot off an assist from Tom Cavanagh.
Turano, who had not played since Nov. 29, was in the lineup in place of junior Dennis Packard, out indefinitely with a hand injury.
“He gave us a big spark,” Mazzoleni said of Turano, who broke his finger later in the game. “We needed it at that point.”
But Maine, whose only loss came to third-ranked Colorado College on Oct. 18, went back up by three goals about four minutes later, when Francis Nault’s shot from the left point beat the butterflying Grumet-Morris.
Harvard, though, kept skating stride-for-stride with the Black Bears and cut the lead to 4-2 when Moore skated across the blue line and tucked a wrister underneath the crossbar at 5:23 of the third. The Crimson had ‘Grade A’ chances down the stretch, but World Juniors-bound Jimmy Howard (32 saves) turned aside every one of them.
Harvard, which lost for the first time six games, received an equal number of saves from Grumet-Morris.
“I thought they both played fantastic,” Whitehead said of the goaltenders. “There was a lot of up-and-down play.”
Up next for Maine is the marquee game of this season’s batch of holiday tournaments, a showdown with No. 4 Cornell at the Everblades College Classic.
“That game’s going to be similar to what we saw tonight,” Whitehead said. “Cornell is a big, physical team that plays hard, much like Harvard. So it’s not going to get any easier.
“But it will get a little warmer,” Whitehead said with a smile, referring to the tournament’s location in Estero, Fla. “We’re working our way south. First Portland, then Florida.”
Harvard (9-4-1) will also play a ranked opponent in its next game, No. 14 Northern Michigan, as part of the Bank One Badger Showdown in Milwaukee.