CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A long streak of futility came to an end tonight as Union’s senior class celebrated what few Dutchmen before them have ever been able to — a victory over the Harvard Crimson.
Union (12-11-5, 5-6-3 ECACHL) beat Harvard, 2-1, and with that victory over Harvard, it ended a nine-game winless streak against the Crimson (11-8-2, 8-7-1 ECACHL) that had extended back through the past five seasons. The win was only Union’s second ever all-time over Harvard at the Bright Hockey Center, where the Dutchmen have posted a 1-12-1 record over the years.
But the history of Harvard’s dominance over Union played no part in the on-ice affairs between the two teams; this season’s Union team has been an even match for the Crimson, forcing a 1-1 tie early this month at the Achilles Center before countering Harvard’s speed with aggressive defense and physical play during tonight’s victory. There was certainly cause for concern from Union fans, though, given Harvard’s three-goal third period in last night’s win over Rensselaer and the Dutchmen’s own defensive struggles that allowed five goals at Dartmouth.
From the opening face-off, the Dutchmen countered Harvard’s team speed with physical play, jamming the puck along the boards and clogging the neutral zone. And while the Dutchmen struggled at times to move the puck up-ice against Harvard’s aggressive forecheck, Union’s forecheck created an equal number of difficulties for the Crimson.
“I could tell right away — from the fourth or the fifth shift — that we’d have our energy and our enthusiasm back,” said Union coach Nate Leaman.
Union first made its mark on the scoreboard at 13:21 of the first, when freshman forward Chris Potts backhanded a sweet shot past Harvard netminder John Daigneau. Linemate Torren Delforte wrestled the puck away from Harvard down along the boards and he passed the puck up to Potts; he cut towards the net along a flat angle from Daigneau’s left, shielded the puck and then deftly flipped a hard backhand shot that beat Daigneau clean.
“That first goal was just a hard working, forecheck goal,” said Leaman. “We were lucky enough to get a turnover and we capitalized on it.”
The 1-0 Dutchmen lead held through the rest of the first despite some strong pressure from Harvard; many of the Crimson’s best chances in the first came in the last 15 seconds of the period. Dutchmen defenseman Brendan Milnamow, after a scramble for the puck near the side boards with the Crimson’s Dan Murphy, was called for contact to the head-roughing at 19:45. Harvard won the ensuing face-off and got off a pair of shots amidst a scrum in front of the net.
After what seemed a promising start, Harvard’s power play fizzled when it started the second period with 1:45 left on the man advantage. The teams traded another pair of unproductive power plays between the four and eight minute marks of the second and the game was even until the Dutchmen again found a way past Daigneau at 9:18.
Union broke through the neutral zone towards the Harvard end on a two-on-one break; Mike Harr skated up ice with the puck, and Delforte was on the opposite side keeping pace. Harr drove in hard to the net, holding the puck and drawing both Daigneau and the defenseman to him. When he’d forced that double commitment, Harr slid the puck across to the waiting Delforte who easily popped home the wide open shot before Daigneau could finish sliding across the crease.
“It was a simple two-on-one [breakaway],” Leaman said. “But they executed it perfectly.”
That execution gave Union a 2-0 lead, but it was found lacking less than a minute later when Harvard’s aggressive forecheck finally forced Union into an error. Forward Tyler Magura made a strong check low along the boards in the Union end to free up the puck and Nick Coskren fed a wide-open Steve Mandes, whose quick shot beat netminder Kris Mayotte topshelf at 9:47.
At that point in the game, Harvard appeared ready to build momentum and put together a quick three-goal outburst like it did against Rensselaer. But Union’s defense was effective and Mayotte was solid between the pipes, stopping 26 of the 27 shots sent his way. In the third period Harvard controlled the majority of the play and put consistent pressure on Union, but the Dutchmen defense and Mayotte did not let another puck through.
“Union played very well; they really battled,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato after the game. “They really battled.”
“Our team didn’t come up with enough second and third chance efforts to create some plays,” he continued. “We played a very strong third period but Union blocked a lot of shots and were very physical.”
Union will face travel partner Rensselaer next weekend in a home-and-home series, while Harvard will travel south to Providence to take on Brown next Friday night.