CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
Or in the case of Harvard’s Jon Pelle, try over and over and over again.
Robbed on five occasions, the rookie finally broke through late in the third period with the game-winner as the Crimson came from behind to beat the Yale Bulldogs, 3-1, in front of 1,811 fans at Bright Hockey Center.
“I tried putting a lot of pucks on net,” explained the freshman, “and eventually one was going in.”
Pelle took nine shots on the night, but it was his quick snapshot at 17:14 of the third period that was the difference-maker. Standing to the right of Yale netminder Josh Gartner, who made 44 saves, Pelle took a quick pass from Tom Cavanagh behind the net and shoveled a one-timer off the post and in for a power-play tally.
“It felt great,” said Pelle about his first collegiate tally, “and better for it to go for the team’s first win.”
Pelle was all over the ice on this cold, snowy New England night. When he wasn’t getting off quick shots, he was setting teammates up for golden opportunities.
“Jon played great,” said linemate Andrew Lederman, whose first goal of the season and second of his Harvard career tied the game late in the final frame. “He protects the puck on the power play like he is a senior. He has a lot of confidence with the puck.”
With three points, Pelle ended up as the game’s top storyline, but until Lederman’s tally, the contest was owned by Gartner.
“I thought he was exceptional,” said Yale coach Tim Taylor. “We’ve been waiting for him or them (the goalies) to play that well so that we could be in games.”
In a penalty-filled first period, Harvard could not score on any of its four power play opportunities thanks to Gartner’s sharp reflexes. The junior made two quick saves, including one from right in front of the net, against Crimson sophomore Steve Mandes at 3:20. At 15:54, Mandes had another opportunity turned aside when Gartner stopped his breakaway from the blueline.
But Gartner saved his best for later in the period when, shorthanded at 17:23, he stopped defenseman Noah Welch’s point shot and recovered quickly enough to grab the puck off Pelle’s stick just as the diminutive forward was about to slide it into the empty cage.
In the second period, Gartner was even better. Stopping 18 shots in the middle stanza, the son of NHL Hall of Famer Mike Gartner stymied Pelle on a 2-on-1 and then frustrated the rookie with a glove save through traffic at 15:46. Thirty seconds later, Gartner made two stellar stops on shots from the slot, including one in which he knocked the puck out of the air with a wave of his stick.
When Bulldogs’ sophomore Brad Mills buried a loose puck to the right of Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris (21 saves) at 6:26 of the third period, it appeared that the Elis were en route to surprising the Crimson.
That was before Lederman and Pelle connected just under three minutes apart. Lederman’s tally came on the man-advantage, as did senior Brendan Bernakevitch’s first of the season at 19:27 the game’s final marker.
“I thought the third period was our best period,” said Taylor, “but we were outscored 3-to-1. We had the territorial edge.
“I thought we played our best defensive game of the year. We killed off lots of penalties. It’s a hard loss to take. We played so well and did what we needed to do to steal the game.”
Behind the Harvard bench, the victory was the first for rookie coach Ted Donato.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said the Harvard grad. “They really stuck to it. It is a credit to the character of our guys. We upped our pressure after they scored.
“[The first win] feels good, but I’m very gratified that the guys were rewarded for their ability to stick with it. I’m more happy for our guys.”
Despite the tough loss, the Bulldogs’ fifth of the season, Taylor did find a silver lining.
“There’s a lot for us to build on,” he explained. “We can walk out of here with our heads held high. Our team motto is to get better each week. We’ll be better tomorrow than we were tonight and better next weekend than we will be tomorrow.”
Harvard (1-2-1, 1-2-1 ECACHL) finished the game 2-9 on the power play, while Yale (0-5-0, 0-3-0) was 1-4. The Bulldogs head to Brown on Saturday and the Crimson host Princeton looking to avenge last year’s season sweep.