CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On the first Saturday in January, the Harvard Crimson (11-7-2, 8-6-1 ECACHL) suffered a narrow 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Engineers from Rensselaer (11-12-3, 5-5-3). Harvard then entered its Exam Period Break, over which time the hockey team had nearly three weeks to contemplate the disappointments it suffered on its road trip to the Capital Region of New York.
The Crimson were back on the ice tonight for the first time since that loss, and while the team looked rusty at points, the time off also gave Harvard fresh legs that it put to good use in the third period against an undermanned Engineer defense. Rensselaer had only five defensemen in uniform, and the fresh legs of Harvard’s already fast forwards exploited that weakness in the third period, scoring three unanswered goals to secure a 3-1 win over Rensselaer.
“I though we played pretty well in the first period,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “I thought the game was played at our tempo. In the third period we had to really up the tempo. As the pace quickened, maybe they ran out of gas a little bit.”
The game started off slowly but the pace quickly picked up as Harvard tried to push the tempo and take advantage of its fresher legs. The shots were even at eight through one period. Although Harvard had more quality scoring chances, Rensselaer was the only team to score. The Engineers’ goal came at 18:37 of the first period; forward Jake Luthi took a pass from fellow defenseman Scott Romfo and sent a long shot from the blue line that Harvard netminder John Daigneau apparently missed amidst traffic in front.
That score held through the second period as RPI made adjustments to its forecheck that combined with some penalties to limit Harvard’s offensive chances. Rensselaer netminder Mathias Lange continued to turn aside the few good shots Harvard did fire on net.
“We had some real good opportunities, and he made some great saves,” Donato said. “He’s a very good goalie-Lange has made it tough for a lot of teams this year.”
In the third period the Crimson finally cracked the scoreboard. At 2:48 of the first, center Tyler Magura won the face off to Lange’s right and drew it back to defenseman Dylan Reese. Reese skated along the blue line and passed it down low to Dave Watters who in turn fired the puck towards the net. The puck hit Harvard’s Steve Mandes and deflected into the net to tie the score at 1-1.
That goal broke the ice for the Crimson, and from that point on Harvard put ever-increasing pressure on Rensselaer. Dan Murphy, skating up the right-hand side on the break, fired a hard angle shot that beat Lange to his right and gave Harvard a 2-1 lead seven and half minutes into the third. Momentum continued to build for the Crimson as less than a minute later RPI’s Andrew Lord was called for hooking at 8:21 and Luthi was whistled for cross-checking at 8:50.
With that extended five-on-three power play, Harvard put the game out of reach. Moving the puck quickly from high-to-low and back again, defenseman Tom Walsh passed the puck down to center Kevin Du who fired it across the goal line to a wide-open Charlie Johnson. Johnson found the back of the net for his fourth goal of the season at 9:26 of the third.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do in order to hold the lead,” said Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen. “The pressure was on them, but we didn’t handle it well.”
“We took some bad penalties,” he continued. “On the five-on-three, we got stretched out way more than we should have.”
“You have to do the little things well to win and you have to play smart,” Fridgen said. “And [in the third period] we didn’t.”
Rensselaer will look to get back on track tomorrow night in a game at Dartmouth, who defeated the Engineers, 4-1, earlier this month at Houston Field House. Harvard will host Union at the Bright Hockey Center.