PRINCETON, N.J. — Princeton’s mystical hold on Harvard continues.
The Crimson fell to 1-5 in its last six games against the Tigers and Princeton completed the season sweep with a 2-1 victory Tuesday night at Hobey Baker Rink. Despite having superior talent on paper, Harvard has struggled against its Ivy rival with an inconsistent performance that has mirrored its play this year.
“The roller coaster continues,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. “It was not so much a matter of effort, it was a matter of execution.”
Fifty-six seconds into the third period, a Crimson turnover behind the net transformed into a backhand pass by Patrick Neundorfer that found Chris Owen on the doorstep. Owen buried the puck five hole through Dov Grumet-Morris to break the 1-1 tie.
“When Harvard plays hard, they are very tough to play against,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. “To see how they did this week against Boston College and Massachusetts, shows how good a test this was for the team.”
Owen had extra motivation to settle a score against the Crimson. He had been a Harvard recruit, but the coaching change in Cambridge a few years ago changed his Ivy colors. Owen now has seven goals in eight career games against his almost alma mater.
Afterwards, Princeton celebrated as if it had won a championship.
“We get more fired up for Harvard than for any other team,” Owen said. “They don’t respect us and they take us lightly. Our third period tonight showed that we didn’t take them lightly, that we treat this as one of the biggest games of the year.”
Harvard controlled most of the offensive play through the first two periods. Superior puck possession and speed did not translate into too many quality scoring chances. The Crimson buzzed Tiger netminder Eric Leroux, but he never faced many second shots.
The best offensive play of the game belonged to Tiger rookie Grant Goeckner-Zeller. On the power play, Goeckner-Zeller took a diagonal pass at the right of Grumet-Morris, and scored a goal-scorer’s goal. Adroitly flipping the buck from backhand to forehand, he waited and rifled the shot in the far corner to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead at 10:03 of the second period.
“You can tell that he has tremendous hands,” Quesnelle said of his young sniper. “To wait and then have the presence of mind to put the shot in the top of the net, you can’t teach that.”
The most Harvard threatened was in an initial fury during the first five minutes of the game and a lengthy five-on-three power play in the second period. Late in the period, Leroux stopped senior Tyler Kolarik on a shorthanded breakaway.
After Princeton took the lead in the third period, it sat back and stepped up its physical play, and the Crimson withered down the stretch.
“We have got to get better on the power play and penalty kill,” Mazzoleni said. “It seems that we give up a power-play goal every night.”
Only Tim Pettit found the back of the net for the Crimson. He caught the Tigers on a bad line change and cruised down the left wing, blasting his trademark shot across the grain, into the top corner past Leroux’s left shoulder.
Harvard had 32 shots on goal for the game, but only the Kolarik breakaway stood out as a golden missed opportunity. The Tiger defense also killed all three Crimson man advantages.
Leroux had a quiet night for making 31 saves.
“We played pretty much the defensive game we want to play against every night,” Quesnelle said. “Except for a stretch where we got boxed in during the second period, we kept Harvard out of the Grade ‘A’ tonight.”
While Harvard, ranked sixth in the preseason, has largely disappointed, Princeton at 5-6-0 in conference has been a surprise. The Tigers are now tied for second in the ECAC, jumping over the Crimson. Princeton won only three games last season.
“From start to finish, this was a complete effort,” Quesnelle said. “We are getting better each time out. From the first six games of the year to the next six games, you can see the progress. And we expect it to continue.”
Notes: As well as Princeton played, its venerable rink did not fare so well. The scoreboard kept cutting out and buzzing at random times throughout the game. Play was delayed for over three minutes in the second period before finishing the frame without it running. In the third period, the game clock worked, but the score and penalty clocks did not.