PROVIDENCE, R.I. — See also: Semifinal Notebook
Led by rookie defenseman Justin Fletcher’s goal and two assists, the No. 10 St. Cloud State Huskies overcame a slow start to defeat the inconsistent Harvard Crimson, 6-4, in the opening game of the inaugural Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot tournament.
St. Cloud (11-6-2, 8-4-2 WCHA) was playing its first game since December 13 and looked every bit as rusty as expected.
“I thought we played a pretty good game after the layoff,” said St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl. “We played extremely well in the third period, especially in the last six minutes.
“We haven’t scored many this year, but we haven’t given up many either.”
Tonight, they did both, but managed to post 41 shots against a Crimson team that had not allowed more than 40 on the season.
Harvard (6-7-1, 4-5-1 ECAC) jumped on the board first at 5:23 of the first period when junior Tom Cavanagh notched his ninth goal of the season. With the Crimson’s leading goal-scorer planted in front of Huskies netminder Adam Coole, Harvard defenseman Peter Hafner wristed a shot from the left point that deflected off Cavanagh’s skate and into the net.
St. Cloud responded at 12:08, just under a minute after failing on the power play. A clean faceoff victory by the Huskies led to a hard slapshot from the point by rookie blueliner Casey Borer that was redirected by junior Garrett Larson. The deflection, which eluded Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris, was Larson’s third of the season in only his sixth game.
The Crimson regained the lead with a goal at 14:40 after a flurry in front of Coole. Senior Tyler Kolarik’s shot from in front was stopped, but classmate Tim Pettit followed up by sweeping the bouncing rebound into the net. It was only the third goal of the season by the struggling Pettit, who played well with new linemates Cavanagh and Kolarik. The first assist was Kolarik’s 100th career point at Harvard.
“Tom and Tim have played well together,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni when asked about the play of the new top line, which registered a combined seven points on the night.
“Tyler’s been a little shortchanged this year. He hasn’t had the opportunity to be in situations where he’s been able to use his abilities.”
That changed on this evening, but other Crimson skaters were unable to contribute.
“Some other lines you expect to play even and they get scored on,” said a frustrated Mazzoleni. “You can’t have that. Maybe we’ll play the top line and trap with the other three.”
Such an approach may have helped Saturday as a more aggressive St. Cloud squad wasted little time tying the score in the second period while on the power play.
The Huskies benefited from another strong point shot — this time by Fletcher — that was initially stopped by Grumet-Morris. The rebound, however, bounced right onto the stick of sophomore Brock Hooton, who lifted a backhander by the diving Crimson netminder at 4:38.
Fletcher, who stood out all night and was named the game’s first star, was the catalyst on the goal.
“Sometimes I can’t believe he’s a freshman,” said Dahl.
The Huskies jumped on a bad defensive play by Harvard less than a minute later when junior Dave Iannazzo and sophomore Joe Jensen broke into the Crimson zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Jensen, the trailer on the play, finished things off with a rising shot that beat Grumet-Morris for his sixth of the season.
“We tried to be aggressive on the forecheck,” explained Mazzoleni, “but I just didn’t see it.”
To its credit, Harvard swung the game’s momentum back at 11:20 when senior Rob Fried and junior Rob Flynn skated in on a 2-on-1 of their own. Flynn’s shot was blocked by Coole, but Fried crashed the net and poked the rebound home to tie the game at three. It was Fried’s first goal of the season and Flynn’s second point.
The Crimson regained the lead just 1:36 into the third period when defenseman Noah Welch picked up a loose puck along the left boards and wristed a floater through a maze of players and off the far post.
Again, St. Cloud responded quickly. At 3:57, senior Andy Lundbohm walked out from behind the net untouched — as Huskies forwards were allowed to do all evening — and skated through the crease before depositing the puck by Grumet-Morris to tie the game at four.
Having already allowed a season-high in goals, Harvard’s goaltender was victimized again just under a minute later. This time, however, it didn’t take a good play to beat him. Instead, Fletcher’s seemingly harmless shot trickled through the pads of the Harvard goalie and served to fully deflate the Crimson.
“Dov was like he was in the first four or five games for us,” Mazzoleni said about his netminder. “There were two or three goals that maybe could have been stopped.”
Senior captain Matt Hendricks added an empty-netter to cap the St. Cloud victory.
“I think this game summarizes where we are at right now,” said Mazzoleni. “It was an up-and-down game. When we had to answer the call in the third period, we couldn’t. We had to dig down and make a difference and we couldn’t get it done.
“We haven’t shown the ability to seize the momentum. When it comes down to the wire, we’re not getting over that hump. You hear all the clichs: ‘Good teams win the close ones.’ We’re not winning them.”
St. Cloud advances to the Coffee Pot championship on Sunday to play the winner of Clarkson-Providence. Harvard will play in the afternoon consolation.