CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As No. 11 Harvard prepared to face Brown in the Bright Hockey Center’s last regular season game, one voice echoed above the buzz of the modest Tuesday-night crowd. “It’s going to be a long night, D’Alba,” a fan warned Bears goaltender Adam D’Alba, the freshman phenom who had previously allowed just 1.77 goals per game and boasted a .941 save percentage. And lo and behold, the fan was right.
For D’Alba, the Crimson’s 3-0 win made for a long night, indeed. Harvard (18-7-2, 15-4-1 ECAC) took the lead at 4:09 in the first period and never looked back. Sophomore Ryan Maki controlled the puck in the left circle. Unable to muster a solid shot, the forward fired a pass across the slot to Tom Cavanagh, the Crimson’s assistant captain, who stood wide-open. D’Alba, who had been watching Maki the entire, time, barely turned in time to see Cavanagh’s shot sail past him glove-side and shake the back of the net. That goal would be all the Crimson needed to cap a 12-1-0 regular season at home, but Harvard was not done.
The Crimson tested D’Alba 28 times, and though the Bears (14-10-3, 9-9-2) actually outshot Harvard by one, the home team’s chances were all closer, more forceful, and the result of more pressure. It wasn’t a pretty win, but Harvard coach Ted Donato deemed it “a good win.”
“I think our guys battled and did what we needed to do,” he said. “I don’t think we earned a lot of style points or that we were on the top of our game, but we did enough to win.”
The score remained 1-0 for quite some time — until after the halfway point of the second period, in fact– when, at 13:33, Crimson rookie Jon Pelle corralled the puck near the right post, spun, and fed linemate Charlie Johnson for the goal.
“We hung our goaltender out to dry a couple times,” said Brown coach Roger Grillo. “They had tap-ins in open nets, and you can’t do that.”
With just 17 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Maki would knock home a goal that proved particularly crushing for the Bears, as it came on the heels of two stellar, successive saves from Crimson netminder Dov Grumet-Morris, whose 10th career shutout gave him sole possession of the Harvard record. The blanking was Grumet-Morris’ third in his last four ECAC games, and he now owns a 1.55 goals against average and a nation-best .949 save percentage.
“He’s played great for us all year,” said Donato. “Now that we’re towards the end of the season, it will be interesting to see how the numbers play out. But he certainly deserves mention for all postseason awards, because he’s meant more to us than I could ever explain in words.”
Brown coach Roger Grillo agreed, specifically referencing those two, late second-period stops.
“Their goaltender stepped up and made some big saves at some key times,” Grillo said. “It could have easily been 2-1 just before they scored that third goal.”
Though Harvard did not immediately pull away, the Bears could not sustain its brief bursts of offensive attack and were, especially early on, thwarted by an energetic Crimson forecheck. Of the 50 total shots the Bears attempted, 29 landed on goal and 32 were mustered from beyond the faceoff circles. And during its five power plays, Brown managed only five shots.
“Brown’s got a good power play,” Donato said. “If you take the first seven games out, they have the best power play in the country. It was dangerous coming in. We knew, on the special teams end of it, that we had to do a good job. And I thought our guys really battled hard.”
Harvard’s penalty kill excelled despite the absence of sophomore Kevin Du, who sat out with the flu, and after spending stretches towards the bottom of the national standings, the Crimson’s units have now improved to 83.3 percent, a 26th in the country.
The staunch defense was balanced by a Harvard attack in which only three skaters did not take a shot on goal. Though it took the team more than 30 minutes to pull away, the Crimson never looked discouraged.
“We make a point, the seniors on the team,” said Crimson captain Noah Welch, “every time we go in the locker room, we say, ‘don’t even look at the scoreboard. Look at the clock and see how much time is left, but the score doesn’t matter. We just kept plugging away.”
Grillo was more blunt. “I thought Harvard played extremely well and we were average tonight. They deserved to win.”
Both teams will head to take on Dartmouth and Vermont this weekend to close out the regular season.