CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — No. 1 Boston College may still be the best in the nation. But the Eagles’ weren’t even the top club in Boston on Tuesday.
Harvard surrendered a tally just 62 seconds in and appeared headed for disaster, but rallied for two goals before the end of the first period en route to a 3-1 upset victory. The Crimson victory snaps a nine-game winless streak against the Eagles (4-2-1, 2-0-1 Hockey East) stretching back to Jan. 13, 1999 and the end of the Ronn Tomassoni era.
“We knew we were the underdogs,” said Harvard freshman Jon Pelle, who notched two Crimson goals, including the equalizer. “Every guy in that locker room believed that we could win. We knew that probably everyone outside the room didn’t think so, but we believed it, and we knew that was what it would take to get the win.”
That faith was tested early, when Dave Spina broke into the Crimson zone and whipped an unobstructed shot right past netminder Dov Grumet-Morris just over a minute into the game.
But rather than shake Harvard’s resolve, the goal appeared to galvanize Ted Donato’s squad, as the Crimson (3-2-1, 2-2-1 ECACHL) not only rebounded, but flat-out dominated the next several shifts.
“I thought we responded well,” said Grumet-Morris, who recorded 20 saves following the initial miscue. “Because in a game, in a season, that’s going to happen.” Establishing heavy pressure inside the BC zone, Harvard drew three penalties by the end of the first frame, and its red-hot power play capitalized.
With Ryan Shannon in the box for slashing, Crimson forward Andrew Lederman blasted a shot at Eagles netminder Matti Kaltiainen from the left circle, which subsequently ricocheted out to Pelle along the end line. With Kaltiainen struggling to his feet, the freshman calmly controlled the puck, and then, as if realizing for the first time that the goal was completely undefended, rushed towards the near post and wristed the puck home to knot the score at one at 10:39.
“I guess I’ve just been getting lucky,” Pelle said. “The puck’s been popping out to me with open nets, and I’ve been fortunate enough to put some of them away.”
Lederman wouldn’t give Pelle another opportunity with his next shot. Just moments after BC killed off the first leg of a 5-on-3 power play, Lederman took Brendan Bernakevitch’s feed between the circles and one-timed the puck off a defender in front and into the top of the net for the game winner.
That score by no means sealed the deal for the Crimson, however, as the Eagles fought to reclaim the game’s momentum in the second period. Pinning the puck in the Harvard end and quickly counterattacking from its own zone, BC tested Grumet-Morris time and again before earning its best chance to draw even, a penalty shot for Spina at 15:06 after he was taken down on a breakaway.
But Grumet-Morris tipped Spina’s effort wide of the mark, deflating, if not altogether defeating, the Eagles’ momentum. And though BC managed to rattle off a few more shots before the period’s end, the threat had essentially been thwarted.
Harvard succeeded in that effort thanks in large part to exceptional play from the penalty kill unit, which had been solid throughout the season prior to its meltdown against Princeton on Saturday.
But the 42 percent success rate painfully endured three days ago was replaced by flawless execution from the Crimson’s special teams, which successfully killed each of BC’s five power plays.
“We concentrated on doing our own jobs,” Grumet-Morris said. “And that’s the most important thing, because in a penalty kill, you have less guys. You need to worry about your area and your specific job. When you start running around, that’s when your team starts to have trouble.”
But, as it has done so effectively in its last three games — going 9-for-24 with a man advantage in the process — the Crimson ensured BC would do plenty of scrambling. Just over three minutes into the third, Bernakevitch raced in on Kaltiainen before blasting a shot that handcuffed the keeper.
As he collapsed to cover the puck, Pelle raced in to slap it home, prompting vehement protest from the Eagles’ Chris Collins, who was subsequently slapped with a 10-minute misconduct.
Down two and powerless to effect much change, BC began to yield to its frustration, twice drawing penalties in the last 10 minutes for unnecessary hits, including a violent crosscheck from behind delivered to Lederman by Andrew Alberts. The increasingly physical play yielded equally disappointing results for the Eagles though.
“They were just better than we were tonight,” Boston College coach Jerry York said.