CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On a night with enough subplots to fill a made-for-TV movie, it was the supporting cast of the Harvard Crimson (8-3-1, 6-3-1 ECACHL) that made the difference in leading their squad to an impressive 3-1 victory over the No. 10 Vermont Catamounts (9-5-3, 4-1-2).
Fourth-liners Dan Murphy and Tyler Magura each scored and Brendan Bernakevitch added an empty-netter in his return after missing three games with a leg injury to snap the Catamounts’ 11-game unbeaten streak. The win vaulted Harvard past Union and into first place in the ECACHL.
“I thought it was a huge game,” said Murphy. “We knew they were on a roll. It was a big-league game and we were playing at home. We had to get the points.”
“They are all talented guys,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato about his fourth line, which also includes senior Rob Flynn. “They understand their role. They set a physical tone and give us energy.”
The much-anticipated contest featured plenty of high-profile story lines between two of the hotter teams in the league.
Former Harvard teammates Donato and Kevin Sneddon faced each other for the first time behind their respective benches. The Catamounts were looking to set the mark for longest unbeaten streak (12) in their Division I history. Plus, the winner was assured at least a share of the league’s top spot heading into non-conference action for Harvard and exams for Vermont.
The game itself unfolded as expected. It was a physical, quick-skating, yet tight defensive contest.
“I’m proud of the guys. We faced adversity out there and battled hard,” said Sneddon in alluding to the game’s officiating. “That’s all I’m going to comment on that.”
Sneddon’s problems with the men in stripes began in the first period when his netminder, Joe Fallon, left the ice on a delayed penalty. The only problem was that the call was actually against Vermont as Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris had also left the ice. When the officials didn’t blow the play dead when the Cats touched the puck, the Crimson regained control of the puck and Bernakevitch eventually found himself staring at an empty net before ringing a shot off the post from just above the left faceoff circle.
It was the closest the teams would get to a tally in the first 20 minutes.
“They all make mistakes,” Sneddon said. “I’m not going there. They are all human. We’ve gotten some of those too.”
“It was a mistake on the refs’ part,” added Fallon. “It was a fluky play.”
Vermont struck first early in the second period when Joey Gasparini converted Jaime Sifers’ cross-ice pass while standing below the left circle. The power-play goal, his first marker of the season, came at 2:42, but the lead didn’t last long.
On the very next shift, Murphy sneaked in behind the Catamount defense, jumped on an outlet pass by Dylan Reese and skated in on Fallon. His initial shot was blocked by the tall netminder, but Magura put the rebound into the empty right side of the net for his first collegiate goal.
“I was definitely surprised,” said Murphy about finding himself behind the blueliners. “All I had to do was get the shot off and Tyler was there to get the rebound.”
“We made a brutal defensive mistake on the first goal,” admitted Sneddon. “He got behind our defense. We talk to the team about that all the time.”
It was especially deflating, the coach said, because it came so soon after UVM’s tally.
“It was huge,” said Donato about the goal. “The fourth line has been excellent all year. We were a little bit deflated because we had a few power-play opportunities that we didn’t convert.”
The game remained knotted at one heading into the third period until Murphy notched his third of the season. Harvard controlled play in the UVM zone as a power play wound down. Just as Sifers exited the sin bin, Murphy crashed the net and poked home the rebound of Charlie Johnson’s shot from the right circle.
“It was a bad rebound,” said Fallon, “and it cost us. We need to pick our game up. We’ve got to get back to that intensity. We not only want to beat teams, but beat them good. That’s what good teams do.”
Bernakevitch’s goal, his second of the year, at 19:13, ended Vermont’s attempted comeback seconds after pulling Fallon for the extra attacker.
The Crimson ended the night 0-6 on the power play, while the Catamounts were 1-3. Fallon stopped 27 shots to Grumet-Morris’ 22 saves.
Harvard faces off against Maine on Saturday. Vermont returns to the ice at Dartmouth on December 19 at 2 p.m.