BOSTON — The Harvard Crimson was facing a drought in late January; the team was having trouble finding the back of the net, was holding the puck too long on power plays, and was more generally just not getting enough shots on net.
“I think we went a stretch where we were having trouble scoring for six or seven games there,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “So we tried to simplify things — throw a lot more pucks on the net. We knew we weren’t going to score more goals by shooting less. We need to give ourselves a chance to get second and third opportunities.”
Now in mid-February, the scoring drought is over as Harvard has put 40 shots on net in each of its last four games. The Crimson has outshot its opponents 186-100 over that stretch. It fired 47 shots at Brown on February 3, shot 41 times in last Monday’s 5-3 Beanpot loss to BU, and sent a season-high 57 pucks at Princeton netminder Eric Leroux last Friday.
Harvard has won two of those three games; Monday’s 5-0 win over Northeastern marks the team’s second game in a row where it has scored five goals. And with the end of the team’s scoring drought, another drought came to an end as the Crimson snapped a five-game Beanpot losing streak.
The last time Harvard was able to celebrate a Beanpot win was after a 4-1 consolation victory over Northeastern in 2003.
The Crimson recorded the win thanks to a strong first period in which it asserted control with its potent power play and the solid netminding of backup goaltender Justin Tobe. In the first, the Crimson outshot Northeastern 19-9 and had a 1-0 advantage three and a half minutes into the game thanks to an opportunistic power-play goal by Ryan Maki.
“I thought Harvard dominated the first period,” said Northeastern coach Greg Cronin. “We were outplayed, we lost the puck battles, and we were outshot. End of story.”
That wasn’t entirely the end of the story for the Huskies, as they trailed only 1-0 after one period. But the ice was certainly slanted against them since the team took the ice without three of its top five power-play performers — Jimmy Russo, Steve Birnstill, and Ryan Ginand were all inactive.
While the second period was more competitive, the Crimson got a pair of goals from its all-freshman fourth line to give the team a 3-0 lead just over 18 minutes into the second. Steve Rolecek had the second Harvard goal of the game, the first of his collegiate career.
Then, less than a minute after Nick Coskren’s goal made the score 3-0, Harvard converted on a faceoff opportunity down low in the Northeastern end to make the Crimson advantage 4-0.
Harvard’s Paul Dufault won the draw forward in the faceoff circle; linemate Dave Watters skated in, shielded his defender with his body, got control of the puck, and passed across to Jon Pelle, who was sitting on the doorstep.
“That faceoff goal was something we’ve practiced,” Pelle said. “Paul won the draw; Dave beat his man off the puck. I just put my stick on the back door.
“They did all the work,” he admitted. “It was a pretty easy goal for me.”
After being thoroughly outplayed in the first, Northeastern showed renewed energy in the second. The result was a much more competitive period, but the Huskies nevertheless found themselves down 4-0 at the end of two periods of play.
“[In the] second period we had a little bit of jump,” Cronin said. “I think we hit a post or a crossbar on one shift that would have made it a little bit more interesting.”
On the whole, though, the night left much to be desired from Northeastern’s perspective. While the shots were even in the third at 9-9, Harvard extended its lead to 5-0 on a second Pelle goal and the Huskies had only a handful of quality scoring chances against Tobe.
“We looked flat, said Cronin. “We took the train over here, and I don’t know if we left our legs on the train or what, but we just looked flat and slow and sloppy, and it was an ugly first period,” Cronin said.
In the same way that Cronin was frustrated with his team’s play, Donato was pleased with the effort he saw from his team. He was in the same position as Cronin through the first two periods of last week’s Beanpot loss to BU, but saw his team rally in the third against the Terriers and then continue that energetic play in the team’s last win over Princeton.
“This game was very important for us … a loss would have been devastating in the PairWise for us,” said Donato. “More important than that, though, I tried to present it to the guys as a point of pride. It’s been a long time since we’ve won here.
“This was an important game for us to build momentum,” he added.