CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Everything you need to know about Friday night’s ECAC first-round opener at Bright Hockey Center happened in 10 seconds.
Trailing by two midway through the third, Vermont forwards Jeff Miles and Brady Leisenring stormed into the Harvard zone on a 2-on-1. All that stood between them and a one-goal game was Crimson defender Peter Hafner and goalie Dov Grumet-Morris.
But as Miles prepared to make a play, Hafner swept underneath him, knocking the puck to the boards. Harvard freshman Ryan Maki took possession there, carried it through the neutral zone, and put a snapper past Travis Russell for the final goal in the Crimson’s 3-0 win before an announced 1,627.
“Nail in the coffin, I thought,” nodded Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni.
This was, mind you, the same Ryan Maki who went 25 collegiate games without a goal. He’s now riding a three-game goal-scoring streak.
This was the same Jeff Miles-Brady Leisenring tandem that lit up the league for a combined 54 points this season. Friday’s collective output: four shots on goal.
This was the same Harvard team (13-14-3) whose regular season was characterized by inconsistency. It has now posted consecutive shutouts for the first time in 17 years.
And this was the same Vermont team (9-21-4) that blitzed the Crimson for six power-play goals in 13 tries during the regular season. Friday, it was 0-for-6 — with only two shots on goal.
Yes, it was that kind of night. For both teams.
Said Mazzoleni: “We did a lot of good things out there.”
Said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon: “I don’t think our special teams performed tonight. We got outworked.”
Neither team was particularly strong offensively — Harvard had a 22-19 edge in shots on goal — but almost every scoring chance belonged to the guys in the white sweaters.
The scoring began when freshman Steve Mandes surprised Russell (19 saves) with a transition shot from the right circle that trickled through his legs. It flipped invitingly toward the goal line. Rookie pivot Kevin Du swooped in and tapped it over at 1:40.
“I can’t say enough about our freshmen right now,” said senior assistant captain Tyler Kolarik, who skates with Du and Mandes on the speedy, sub-six-foot line. “Du and Mandes are playing the same game they’ve played all year — very smart, very intense.”
But more than Du’s goal, the crucial moments of the first period came when Rob Flynn and Kolarik took penalties only 11 seconds apart, giving Vermont almost two full minutes on the 5-on-3.
Given the Catamounts’ recent history on the power play — a 3-for-6 night at Bright one week ago — you had to like their chances of tying it. But the Harvard kill clamped down, allowing only one shot on goal during the 1:49, of which stalwarts Noah Welch and Dennis Packard played approximately 1:30 each.
“We were more prepared against their power play tonight than last week,” Kolarik said. “We talked about how to defend it all week.”
Those chalk-talks paid big dividends Friday. The twin-killing swung the momentum the Crimson’s way for the rest of the night.
“We didn’t gain confidence off it,” Sneddon said, “and they did.”
As the Vermont power play floundered, Harvard’s soared. Kolarik capped a pretty tic-tac-toe scoring play at 15:03 of the second (assists to Tom Cavanagh and Brendan Bernakevitch) for a 2-0 lead.
Kolarik goals are typically good omens for Harvard. The Crimson is 6-2-1 this season when he scores, and 28-10-4 over his career.
Such things are to be expected now. This is, after all, Kolarik Time. He has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 13 ECAC tournament games.
Reminded of his success, Kolarik laughed modestly. “Don’t jinx me,” he said.
Harvard, though, was hardly star-crossed in this game, as demonstrated by Hafner’s clutch breakup and Maki’s coup de grace, which Mazzoleni called “a real nice goal-scorer’s goal.”
“He got it right over his glove,” Mazzoleni said. “He’s getting more confident with every game.”
And then there was Grumet-Morris, who quietly stopped 19 in his second straight shutout. “He was very consistent,” Mazzoleni said.
Grumet-Morris carries a scoreless streak of 140:47 into Game 2 Saturday night, when he’ll face a retooled UVM power play intent on extending its season another day.
Still, the Catamounts have history to overcome. Since 1983, when the ECAC began playing best-of-three series on campus sites, roughly 90 percent of Game 1 victors have gone on to win the series.
And of course, there’s the none-too-trifling matter of a Harvard team that began the season as the nation’s No. 6 team and enigmatically sank to No. 6 in the ECAC, before figuring itself out to the tune of back-to-back goose eggs.
“The whole team’s clicking right now,” Kolarik said. “The guys are just coming to play.”