CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — It was a game between rivals. It was a game of opposites. It was a game of streaks and momentum.
It was a game that the Yale Bulldogs won in convincing fashion, 5-2.
The Elis stormed the gates of the Harvard Crimson from the very first minute, and never trailed their bitter rivals in the 219th meeting between the storied programs.
“That was not the prettiest hockey game in the world,” said Yale head coach Keith Allain of the 22-penalty contest, “but we killed off one of the best power plays in the college game. We weathered the storm.”
The Bulldogs — the most-penalized team in the nation, by minutes per game — killed seven of nine Harvard power plays, despite losing junior forward Jean-Francois Boucher, “one of our best penalty killers,” according to Allain.
Harvard had to cope with eight shorthanded situations of its own, though, and surrendered goals on three of them.
“I thought that our effort and intensity were much better than last night,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato, recalling a 2-1 loss to Brown on Friday. “But we didn’t play with much intelligence.”
The Bulldogs pounced on the struggling Crimson right off the opening draw.
Yale, winners of three straight and off to a 6-1-0 start, crashed the net of Harvard freshman Kyle Richter early on. Michael Karwoski put a mishandled rebound through Richter’s pads from low in the right-wing slot only 53 seconds in, and set the tone for the game.
The teams traded power plays early in the first, with Harvard generating five shots to no avail while Boucher served time for tripping. It was one of many chances to seize control that the Crimson had throughout the game.
Harvard did manage to draw even halfway through the first period, on a well-orchestrated five-on-three. After keeping the power play from collapsing in on goaltender Alec Richards for a full minute of the two-man advantage, the Crimson finally broke Yale’s defense as Dylan Reese found the net at 10:09 of the frame.
The teams again traded penalties in the following minutes, and Harvard nearly went up a goal with four and a half minutes before the break. Dylan Reese was again in on the action, firing a shot that rebounded high off Richards before bouncing off Harvard defenseman Brian McCafferty and into the net. Referee John Murphy immediately waved off the goal, declaring that McCafferty made an intentional effort to propel the puck with his body.
The Elis made the home side pay for the missed opportunity only 18 seconds later. Freshman sensation Sean Backman delivered a precision shot from the left-wing dot, the puck whizzing inches off the ice to its final destination just inside the far post.
“J.F. Boucher stole the puck on the halfwall and got it to me; I just found some open net on the far side,” said Backman, the team’s leading scorer.
Yale tried to give the game right back to Harvard 22 seconds into the second period, though. Boucher was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting Kevin Du from behind, pummeling the senior center into the end boards to Richter’s right.
Harvard, however, would have nothing to do with the power play, it seemed, taking consecutive minors only 2:10 apart.
Yale put itself down four-on-three for nearly a minute and a half when Brennan Turner took a hooking penalty at 3:56.
Harvard made good use of all that open ice, as Doug Rogers put one home at 5:02 from Alex Biega and Alex Meintel.
Once more, the teams took tit-for-tat penalties, but this time it was Yale’s turn to put up a power-play goal.
With Biega in the bin for holding, Richter let a Bill LeClerc shot rebound fatally out of his control. First-year forward Chris Cahill settled the puck on Richter’s glove-side doorstep, and calmly poked it into the yawning net.
“We worked real hard to get back to 2-2,” said Donato, “but we took a penalty in the corner, they scored.
“We didn’t give ourselves much chance to win,” he said.
Yale had its heart in its throat for a brief moment in the third, when a Dave Watters shot from Harvard’s left wing was slightly deflected and caught Richards off guard, location-wise. The puck seemed to catch the stellar sophomore in the neck, and he instantly crumpled face-first into the ice with the puck. The arena fell quiet for an instant before Richards sat up again, stunned but safe, as the puck had instead bit him in the collarbone.
Watters was hauled off for hooking six minutes into the third, but Yale’s Blair Yaworski took a seat a minute later for cross-checking.
Two minutes later, Biega blasted a shot that deflected incrementally off teammate Ryan Maki and rang Richards’ left post. Richards was again spooked 30 seconds later, when Jack Christian’s shot from the point weaved through traffic. Richards bobbled the shot momentarily, but recovered to smother the puck before any harm could come of it.
Junior forward Paul Dufault, playing in his first game of the year after breaking a leg during the preseason, ended his own return prematurely with a hitting-from-behind major and game misconduct at 12:46 of the period. He blindsided Yale freshman defenseman Thomas Dignard low in the left wing corner, and was unceremoniously tossed.
The home team’s Jimmy Fraser took another hitting-from-behind penalty not a minute later, and it didn’t take the Bulldogs long to put an insurance tally on the board.
Yale captain Matt Cohen took a feed low on the right wing circle from Patrick Brosnihan and Matt Nelson 28 seconds into the five-on-three, and launched a one-timer past Richter for the 4-2 lead.
The guests put the game away two and a half minutes later, still enjoying the major-penalty power play.
With a mess of skaters in front, Richter lost awareness of a ricocheting puck, and Yaworski found it first. The junior forward knocked the disc past Richter’s right skate to put Yale up three with three and a half minutes to play.
Donato used Harvard’s timeout after matching minors were assessed at 18:01, and lifted Richter for the extra skater. Yale’s Turner took a hooking minor a minute later, but neither team really threatened to change the score in the closing moments. Richards leapt gleefully into the arms of his comrades, as they stormed off the bench to the sound of the final buzzer and the vocal Yale supporters.
Harvard hasn’t started 2-6-0 since the 1964-65 season, but it did start with a worse league record (1-6-0) as recently as 1998-99 (0-8-1). The Crimson try to rebound at Boston University on Tuesday night.
Harvard is looking for a measure of success and respect against its longtime foes from across the river, having already beaten mutual rival Boston College earlier this season.
“It might not be evident, but in the back of our minds, come Beanpot time… two wins versus BC and BU would be huge,” said Du of the game’s significance.
Yale takes its show on the road to Mercyhurst on Tuesday as well. Yale was 3-1-0 in ECACHL play only four seasons ago, and finished 13-9-0 in league play. The 1997-98 team started 6-1-0 as well, and finished the season as regular-season ECACHL and Ivy League champions.