ALBANY, N.Y. — For the third time in five years, the Maine Black Bears met the Harvard Crimson in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. This year, for the first time, the Crimson entered the game as the higher seed — No. 5 overall versus the 12th-seeded Black Bears — but that did nothing to change the outcome as Maine outplayed Harvard in all facets of the game for a 6-1 win.
While the teams were seeded further apart than in previous encounters, Saturday’s game was actually the most lopsided of the three Maine victories.
Two years ago, Maine faced Harvard in the Pepsi Arena and fell behind 4-1 before mounting a furious third-period comeback and captured a 5-4 victory.
Two years before that game, the Black Bears and Crimson met for the first time in the NCAA tournament and the game was closely contested throughout until John Ronan sniped the game-winner two minutes into overtime.
This game began closely enough, with the teams feeling each other out over the opening minutes of the first period. After Harvard’s Ryan Maki was whistled for charging at 4:49 of the first, Maine went on the power play and nearly had the opening score, but Steve Mandes reached out across the crease and scooped the puck out before it could cross the goal line.
That near-score appeared to give Maine some momentum, though, and the game began to increasingly favor the Black Bears. On a faceoff in the Harvard zone to the left of Crimson netminder John Daigneau, Maine’s Michel Leveille won the draw from Kevin Du and pulled the puck back to linemate Josh Soares. Soares sent a sharp shot on net from the point, and Daigneau was unable to see the puck as it blew by him.
Soares’ goal gave Maine a 1-0 edge, but that advantage was short-lived. Harvard responded just over a minute later at 9:32; Charlie Johnson skated up the left side and worked the puck up the boards and into the Maine zone. Linemate Nick Coskren caught up to the puck, controlled it, cut in on net and fired a shot.
Maine netminder Ben Bishop made a pad save, but the puck rebounded long off his left leg and the Crimson’s Mike Taylor was there for the easy putback goal.
That goal appeared to signal a momentum shift; at the very least it held the promise of a high-scoring affair.
Neither was strictly true, however. Harvard got only that one goal and managed a mere 13 shots through two periods, and the key momentum goal was not Taylor’s score but the one from Maine’s Bret Tyler that came 25 seconds later.
Tyler collected the puck near the left side boards, and skated behind the Harvard net, emerging on the left hand side. In a few swift strides he took aim and fired a shot towards the far post, beating Daigneau stick-side and handing the lead back to the Black Bears. It was a great individual effort by Tyler, and the unassisted goal gave Maine a 2-1 lead.
“That was very huge to regain the momentum after they had comeback so quickly from our first goal,” said Maine captain Greg Moore.
“That really was a huge turning point,” seconded Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
“It was really deflating,” agreed Harvard captain Peter Hafner. “The first period, we were lucky to get out of it with a one goal deficit.”
That deficit expanded in the second, as Maine killed off a Harvard power play that ended 7:32 into the second. Maine’s Travis Ramsey took a pass from Keenan Hopson and sent a shot on net from the top of the left faceoff circle. Daigneau made the initial save but failed to control his rebound, and John Hopson popped home the loose puck at 7:49.
Leveille scored Maine’s second unassisted goal on a great individual effort at 12:01 of the first; he blocked a shot by his blue line from Harvard’s J.D. McCabe and then outraced McCabe to the loose puck.
Harvard blueliner Brian McCafferty hustled back but was unable to catch up to Leveille, who cut across the crease, and flicked a back-hander over Daigneau’s left shoulder to give Maine a 4-1 edge.
Harvard was outshot 15-7 through one period, and 30-13 after two. Maine kept constant pressure on Harvard, hemming the Crimson into its zone and forcing a number of turnovers. Maine’s speed along the forward lines was critical in limiting Harvard’s scoring chances.
“We were not able to establish our forecheck, so we played the entire night against their forwards in our zone,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato.
While Harvard had more scoring chances in the third period, it was unable to find the back of the net. Donato, in an effort to spark some offense from his team, pulled goaltender John Daigneau with about four minutes left.
With the extra attacker, Harvard was able to get a couple of shots before Moore scored an empty-net goal at 16:24. Brent Shepheard scored a power-play goal for Maine in the last minute, making the final score 6-1.
“I thought we were outplayed pretty much for the entire game, from top to bottom,” Donato said. “Maine deserves a lot of credit.
“We flat out got beat to loose pucks,” Donato continued. “We lost the one-on-one battles.
“They got the lead early and made us pay for it.”
With the win, Maine moves on to the regional final where it will meet face top seed Michigan State.