ALBANY, N.Y. — Friday’s matchup between Harvard and Dartmouth in the ECACHL semifinals was highly anticipated, as the two teams split a pair of games early in the regular season, with each team posting a decisive win in its home building. But no matter the parity in regular-season play, the Crimson has owned the Big Green in the postseason over the last few seasons — defeating Dartmouth in the semifinals in both 2003 and 2004.
This year was no different, as Harvard took a 2-0 lead through one, exploded for four goals in the second and added four more in the third en route to a 10-1 win over Dartmouth in the early game of the ECACHL semifinals.
“It was one of those nights you have where nothing seems to go right,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “I thought we had an excellent start to the game, but Harvard is an excellent team, and we gave them some opportunities, and they put it in the back of the net.”
Harvard received a couple key saves in the first 10 minutes from goaltender John Daigneau to keep the score deadlocked at 0-0, and then broke onto the scoreboard at 9:01 of the first. Forward Paul Dufault took a quick shot for the right faceoff circle, but Dartmouth goaltender Mike Devine made the save. The puck rebounded far off Devine’s pads and was met by onrushing Harvard defender Tom Walsh, who popped it by a prone Devine to give the Crimson a 1-0 lead.
Harvard’s defense contributed the team’s second goal as well, as Dylan Reese put back a rebound of Steve Mandes’ shot at 13:35 of the first to give Harvard the 2-0 lead.
The Crimson scored its first goal of the second period just over a minute in, when forward Tyler Magura took a pass off a rush by defenseman Brian McCafferty and wristed a sharp shot by Devine. The Crimson’s Paul Dufault added a power-play goal three minutes later to stretch the lead to 4-0, but Harvard’s biggest goal was its fifth.
Down 4-0, Dartmouth went on the power play after a roughing penalty against Harvard’s Dave MacDonald. Before the Big Green could even begin to set up, however, the Crimson came through with its second shorthanded goal in as many games.
Mandes got control of the puck in the Harvard end, skated swiftly up the left side along the boards, through center ice and into the Dartmouth zone. In stride, he ripped a shot on net for Harvard’s fifth goal of the game, an unassisted shorthander for the junior forward.
Following that frustration, Dartmouth was presented with another opportunity to regain ground: the team had 40 seconds on a five-on-three advantage thanks to consecutive penalties to Harvard’s David MacDonald and Jack Christian.
The Big Green put pressure on Harvard during the power play, taking a couple of quality shots, holding the puck in the zone and working it around the perimeter looking for a gap in the defense. But the Harvard defense held out for all of the five-on-three and the remaining 1:20 of Christian’s penalty without allowing a score.
“That was a tough one,” admitted Gaudet. “There’s no question that [the shorthanded goal] was a deflating part of the game.”
“Obviously, staring down a five-on-three with the type of offensive firepower that Dartmouth has, we were certainly a little nervous at that point,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “I though we did a good job killing the penalty; John made some big saves there.”
“To come back and get the shorthanded goal was a little bit of a backbreaker, I’m sure, for Dartmouth,” he continued.
Dartmouth kept Harvard off the board for almost all the remaining time in the second period, until the Crimson’s Kevin Du scored one of the most beautiful breakaway goals of the year. He skated with speed into the Dartmouth end, maneuvered around the first defender and then slipped back behind the second before faking out Devine and backhanding the puck into the net with eight seconds left in the second.
In the third, Jon Pelle scored the team’s seventh goal three minutes in, and then Dartmouth’s Nick Johnson finally got the Big Green on the board following a great setup pass by forward Eric Przepiorka. Harvard’s Dufault and Mandes scored their second goals of the game, and Maki ended the scoring late in the third with Harvard’s 10th goal.
“Dartmouth’s a very good team, and early in the game had some good opportunities,” said Donato. “John [Daigneau] stood tall in the net, and then the ball got rolling in the wrong direction for them. We got some breaks, we made some individual efforts and some great plays.”
“I thought we came out hard, and I was ready for a hard-working game,” said Dartmouth captain Mike Ouellette. “But they got a couple of bounces right away and put the puck away early and often.”
“It is hard to play catch-up when you are expecting to play a hard-working game,” he added.
Dartmouth will play Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the consolation game against the loser of Friday’s other semifinal featuring Cornell and Colgate. Harvard will face the winner in the championship at 8 p.m.