CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Recent trends in this series of timeless Ivy League rivals suggested it wasn’t a surprise that Princeton beat Harvard Friday night.
The way it happened, though, was historically shocking.
The Crimson had a two-goal lead, not to mention the momentum, after killing a 5-on-3 power play six minutes into third period. But that was before the previously winless Tigers rallied with four unanswered goals, including Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer’s game-winner with just under five minutes left, to stun Harvard, 4-2, before a speechless 2,041 at Bright Hockey Center.
“There’s no excuse,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, whose team has two losses in its first four games (1-2-1, 1-2-1 ECAC) for only the second time in his five-year tenure. “We have someone in our building, it’s 2-0 going into the third period … You’ve got to put them away. This is a veteran team. There’s no excuse for that. Absolutely none.”
There was, however, precedent for Princeton success in these environs: The Tigers are unbeaten in their last five trips to Bright.
Still, this was Harvard’s first loss when leading after two periods since Feb. 24, 2001, and the four-goal bloodletting was the Crimson’s largest third-period collapse at home under Mazzoleni.
“We should have the poise to put it away,” Mazzoleni said, “and we didn’t do it.”
Princeton, meanwhile, earned its first win of the season (1-4-0, 1-2-0 ECAC) after two overtime losses.
“We needed a turning point,” said Fouladgar-Mercer, a senior winger who hadn’t scored a goal yet this year. “I’m sure no one thought we’d get four goals, but everyone just pulled together in the third period and played great.”
Asked if there was something about Bright that accounted for his team’s success there, Princeton coach Len Quesnelle said, “It’s an easy team, an easy program to play real passionate hockey against. They bring all the emotion out … This is an easy team to get yourself motivated to play against.”
Yet, the Tigers struggled to establish a forecheck through the first two periods. They had mustered only 10 shots on goal through 40 minutes and trailed, 2-0, after first-period goals by Charlie Johnson and Noah Welch.
Princeton’s nadir came on the 5-on-3 early in the third, set up by penalties to Welch and Dylan Reese 11 seconds apart. It had only three shots on goal during the subsequent 1:49, none of them particularly threatening. The best scoring chance during that span belonged to Harvard’s Dennis Packard.
“It’s been the sign of our power play to date,” said Quesnelle, whose team was 0 for 6 Friday and is now 1 for 29 on the season, “that lack of poise in certain situations.”
But for the rest of the game, the Tigers were nothing if not aggressive and composed. They began their surge at 7:22 — a little over one minute after the power play expired — when Kevin Westgarth knocked in the leftovers of Ian McNally’s gritty rush along the right boards.
“That was just Ian McNally taking the puck to the net,” Quesnelle said. “Wasn’t pretty.”
But it was still a start. And after the Crimson mustered only one shot on goal during its only power play of the period, Princeton tied it up with just under seven minutes left on a clean faceoff win by Mike Patton to Seamus Young, who sidestepped a Harvard forward at the blue line and squeezed a wrister through traffic and past sophomore goaltender John Daigneau.
“I wasn’t trying to score,” admitted Young. “I was just trying to put it on the net.”
Regardless of his intent, the game was suddenly tied, and Princeton had Harvard on its heels. And though the Crimson is one of the nation’s most experienced teams, with nine seniors and eight juniors, none of them responded in kind.
“We couldn’t stop the bleeding when we had to,” Mazzoleni said. “When they scored, we never put anything together to regain momentum.”
And so it was Fouladgar-Mercer, the senior with six career goals, who got the game winner, rather than one of Harvard’s offensive stars. He collected the cross-ice feed from Neil Stevenson-Moore on top of the left circle and drew Daigneau toward the near post before slipping it five-hole.
“I got over there a little late and hurried things,” Daigneau said, “and he got it under my stick.”
From then on, Eric Leroux (28 saves) stood tall. He turned away Tyler Kolarik’s point-blank bid from the left side and finished with 14 third-period saves before Mike Patton added the empty-netter with 26 seconds left.
Daigneau stopped 16 of 19 shots, one week after making 20 saves at Vermont, the team’s only win of the season.
“Personally, I feel like I need to win that game,”said Daigneau, 1-1 with a 3.51 goals-against average and .837 save percentage. “That’s the kind of a game where I need to make the saves we need to win … I feel like I maybe didn’t give the team what they needed tonight, for whatever reason.”
Mazzoleni said earlier in the week that Dov Grumet-Morris would start against Yale on Saturday. Now, that game looks to be a November must-win. A home sweep would bury Harvard, the ECAC favorite, well in the bottom half of the division, with a 10-day layoff before its next action against Boston University.
Princeton next travels to first-place Brown, a 6-0 winner over Yale on Friday night.