CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — His team’s quarterfinal sweep of Vermont complete and its trip to Albany assured, Mark Mazzoleni was satisfied.
“I thought we were outstanding tonight,” said the Harvard coach after watching his team defeat UVM, 5-1, before 1,517 at Bright Hockey Center on Saturday night to sweep the Catamounts and advance to the ECAC semifinals for the third straight season. “I thought we played a complete 60 minutes. We played hard, disciplined hockey, and we moved the puck exceptionally well. I thought we were the deserving victors.”
Mazzoleni’s postgame remarks had a much different tone than those after Game 1, when he was “very disappointed” by the 12 penalties his team took.
“Oh, we had a talking-to, believe me,” he said. “But I thought our guys responded extremely well. We executed everything we had to do tonight.”
Harvard (21-8-2) has won nine of its last 10 ECAC tournament games and five straight against the Catamounts. With the Brown-Yale and Colgate-Dartmouth series tied at one game each, the Crimson must wait until Sunday night to learn its semifinal opponent. Vermont finished 13-20-3, a 10-win improvement over last season.
“We tripled our wins this year, and if we can do that again next year, we’ll be in great shape,” said UVM coach Mike Gilligan. “This year we had some big-time wins, and a good tie with BU. And our sweep up at Clarkson [in the first round] really set a good tone for the future.
“I’m going to miss our seniors — they’re a great group of men, both on and off the ice — but we have a lot of young kids and a lot to look forward to.”
Gilligan said after Game 1 that his team couldn’t afford to take early penalties, and that against Harvard’s power play — second-best in the ECAC — early penalties meant early deficits.
“That was the message all week, to stay out of the box,” said Gilligan, whose team allowed five power-play goals in the series. “And we didn’t do it.”
Just like Friday, Harvard took a 1-0 lead in Game 2 on an early power-play goal, this one a slapper from the point by Noah Welch at 2:12 only 13 seconds after Jamie Sifers went in for slashing.
Harvard didn’t need an extra man to go up 2-0 about five minutes later. Working in the left-wing corner, Crimson captain Dominic Moore bumped Gerard Miller off the puck, gained possession in the corner, and zipped it to the top of the circle, where Charlie Johnson was waiting. Johnson took aim and squeezed his third goal of the season between UVM goaltender Shawn Conschafter and the short-side post, extending his point-scoring streak to four games.
“I tell you, Charlie Johnson is going to be one heckuva player,” said Moore, who was first star with four points. “You know you’ve got a special player on your hands when he’s as smart as Charlie. He’s very skilled and very quick.”
The Crimson’s fourth line gave it a three-goal lead with 8:22 left in the first, as Aaron Kim fed Rob Fried on a 2-on-2 for Fried’s third goal of the season.
“Everyone stepped up this weekend,” said Mazzoleni, who was without wingers Brendan Bernakevitch (hip) and Tyler Kolarik (shoulder) on Saturday. “Guys that you don’t usually see on the scoresheet: Fried, [Dennis] Packard, Johnson. We had great balance.”
Vermont cut Harvard’s lead to 3-1 on a great individual effort by Jeff Miles, who stickhandled through Moore and Kenny Turano to beat Dov Grumet-Morris five-hole with 9:01 to go in the second period.
But unlike Friday night, when the Cats got within one in the third period, Harvard didn’t give UVM a sniff of the lead. Less than a minute after Miles’ goal, Moore sent a pristine pass from the top of the right-wing circle to Brett Nowak on the doorstep. Conschafter didn’t have a chance. Harvard led 4-1.
The only goal in the third belonged to Moore, who beat Conschafter from the top of the right circle on the power play.
Conschafter, who finished with 37 saves in his final collegiate game, went off to a standing ovation from the UVM contingent with 7:07 remaining. Travis Russell (two saves) finished the game in net.
“I thought he played well this weekend, and I just wanted to get him out of the traffic,” Gilligan said of his decision to take Conschafter out of the game. “They had him hemmed in pretty good, so I wanted to get him a breather.”
Grumet-Morris turned in another workmanlike effort on the other end, stopping 22 of 23 shots in Game 2 and 54 of 57 during the series.
“I thought he was exceptional,” Mazzoleni said of Grumet-Morris, who is second in the nation in save percentage. “That’s the way he was in the playoffs last year, too. He’s been a real steady influence for us. He’s one of the keys to this team.”
Mazzoleni replaced Grumet-Morris with senior Ben Weiss with 2:06 to play, then sent his three senior skaters — Moore, Nowak, and Kim — out for one final shift at Bright.
“That felt great,” Nowak said. “I really love the guys I’m playing with. But we have a lot ahead, too.
“We have more important things to think about than our last home game.”