CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — With three weekends remaining in the regular season, Harvard skated against Rensselaer at Bright Hockey Center, looking to begin redeeming its season. But with ECAC postseason position, home ice, and a possible first-round bye riding on the outcome of the next six games, one team played 60 minutes of hockey and the other did not.
The team that played the entirety of regulation was Rensselaer, and the Engineers (16-11-2, 10-6-1 ECAC) left Bright with two points to show for their efforts. The Crimson (9-13-2, 7-9-1), meanwhile, squandered a lead late in the third period and allowed two goals in the final three and a half minutes. For the Harvard faithful, it wasn’t entirely surprising.
“We need to play the full 60 minutes,” said Harvard assistant captain Tyler Kolarik. “It’s been our problem all year; you play 57 minutes and you don’t get the win.
“You have to execute for all 60 minutes, and if you don’t do that you’re going to come out on the short end of it.”
The Crimson saw the sour side of a 3-2 boxscore due to two late goals that left the crowd at Bright stunned. Trailing 2-1, Rensselaer tied the game on a shot from the point off the stick of Scott Basiuk at 16:29.
Basiuk — who scored the Engineers’ first goal on a similar shot during a power play in the second — was standing just inside the blue line when he uncorked a sharp shot towards Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris. The puck abruptly connected with Dennis Packard’s skate, shifted in its course, and passed underneath Grumet-Morris’s outstretched legs.
With the score tied, both teams had chances on offense, but the best came on the eventual game-winning goal when Rensselaer skated up ice toward Grumet-Morris on an odd-man rush. Rushing into the zone, Rensselaer’s Oren Eizenman dropped the puck back for Ryan Shields, whose quick, hard shot from between the circles beat Grumet-Morris high on his glove side and gave the Engineers a 3-2 win.
The keys for Rensselaer — not including Harvard’s inability to string together 60 minutes of consistent hockey — were composure and goaltending.
Midway through the third period, the Crimson began a strong power play in the Rensselaer end. The faceoff came to Rensselaer goaltender Nathan Marsters’ left and was followed by a shot on net and a scramble in front. The next faceoff came to Marsters’ right and was likewise concluded with a shot and a scrum around the crease.
Following the third faceoff, though, Harvard’s top power-play unit sustained pressure without a stoppage in play, working the puck back-and-forth at the blue line and rotating low along the boards. Following a Tim Pettit point shot, centerman Tom Cavanagh scooped up the loose puck, worked it down along the low boards and found Kolarik in front for an easy power-play goal.
That score gave Harvard a 2-1 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation, but it also served as a wakeup call for Rensselaer. Outshot 13-1 in the middle frame and by 18 shots for the game, the Engineers rallied to put pressure on Grumet-Morris over the last half of the third.
“I like the way we really didn’t get rattled when [Harvard] went up 2-1 on that power-play goal,” Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen said, recounting the key moment in his team’s win.
Part of the reason for the team’s composure was the play of Marsters, who has been a key in Rensselaer’s success this season. He is allowing 2.05 goals per game, and has a .922 save percentage — both good for third among ECAC goaltenders.
“Nathan’s been there for us all year long; he’s allowed us to get some stability [in net],” Fridgen said.
On the night, Marsters stopped 34 of 36 shots and frustrated the Crimson’s offense, and its coach, all evening.
“I give a lot of credit to their goaltender … we couldn’t dent him,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said.
Marsters and Rensselaer meet an excellent goaltender that few teams in the nation have dented Saturday night, when they face Yann Danis and the Brown Bears at Meehan Auditorium. In Cambridge, former Harvard assistant coach Nate Leaman leads Union into town for what’s sure to be an emotional game on both sides.