CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After suffering two withering defeats and a dominant but disappointing tie, the Crimson were in no mood to mess around.
Harvard’s power play scored the first three goals of the game and junior Alex Meintel registered a hat trick en route to a 5-2 victory over Union on Friday night. The win snapped a three-game winless streak, and marked the third victory in Harvard’s last four league home games.
“When we’re connecting on our power plays,” said Crimson head coach Ted Donato, “it doesn’t allow the other team to be as aggressive” out of respect for Harvard’s unit.
The hosts went three-for-six with the man advantage, and added an even-strength goal for a 4-0 lead after two periods of play.
The Dutchmen fought back with two power play goals of their own in the first half of the third period, but Meintel’s third goal of the contest with 2:07 remaining put the game on ice.
“You can’t show up on the road and play 20 minutes and expect to win,” said Union coach Nate Leaman.
“They paid the price to win and we didn’t,” he stated, as his ultimate analysis of the evening.
From the onset, Harvard dictated the pace and style of the game.
The Crimson killed the game’s first penaltya hooking call on Steve Rolecekwith ease, and a little help from freshman goaltender Kyle Richter, who made an awkward save between his legs from a sitting position. When the home side’s Jon Pelle was tripped up by Union’s Jason Shaffer, however, Harvard exhibited frightening ability and efficiency on the advantage.
Dutch goalie Justin Mrazek made four big saves and the Crimson attempted eight shots on net in their initial power play. While they didn’t claim a lead by their efforts, they did set an undeniably dominant tone that would ring clearly for most of the remainder.
Not quite a minute and a half after the conclusion of Harvard’s first power play, Union’s Olivier Bouchard was ushered to the box for a hit-from-behind on Meintel.
Harvard converted this time, as Union defender Brendan Milnamow broke his stick in the defensive zone. Forward Jake Schwan gave his own stick to Milnamow, but following 20 seconds of this pseudo-five-on-three, Pelle popped a shot off Mrazek that just barely fell inside the left goalpost.
Mrazek made another great shorthanded save with under a minute to play in the first, as he snared a laser ticketed for the high-right corner. On the same penalty to the visitors’ Torren Delforte, Mrazek got just enough of a Pelle five-hole shot to roll it just wide of the net.
In the second period, Josh Coyle’s boarding infraction at 2:44 resulted in Harvard’s second goal, and the first of the night for Meintel.
Captain Dylan Reese blistered a low slapshot from the blueline into a forest of legs and sticks screening Mrazek. Meintel was in the thick of it, and was credited with the redirected goal.
Only 53 seconds later, Union’s Schwan was whistled for interference, and Harvard made the most of its fifth PP opportunity.
Ryan Maki deflected an Alex Biega shot 32 seconds into the penalty for an imposing 3-0 lead, and Leaman called his team’s timeout.
“They paid the price; they got to the dirty area,” said Leaman of Harvard’s numerous close-range opportunities.
Despite the break in the action, things got worse for the Dutchmen before they got better.
Sophomore winger Chris Potts took a boarding minor at 8:08 of the middle frame, and Mrazek had to make a nice right-to-left sliding stop on Crimson junior Mike Taylor to keep the game within reach.
Pelle was assessed a slashing penalty at 10:40, but Union couldn’t muster much of a threat in only their second power play of the night.
Bouchard had a chance to shatter Richter’s zero with 4:47 left in the second as he flew down the left-wing lane all alone. He took the chance to wind up and blast a shot far-side, but it missed wide to Richter’s left.
Harvard played the ensuing transition brilliantly, as Meintel lifted a Jimmy Fraser shot over Mrazek a mere 38 seconds after Bouchard’s failed bid. At that point, with the score now 4-0, the Crimson had outshot the Dutchmen 13-1 in the period.
“[The performance] was typical of our young team,” said Leaman, whose team had won three straight as well as four consecutive road games. “I felt it in practice this week… we were starting to get ahead of ourselves, thinking we’re better than we are.”
As the second period wound down, however, Union was given new life.
First, Harvard winger Dave Watters was sent off for holding the stick at 17:36. Right off the faceoff, teammate Jack Christian got away with one as he hauled down T.J. Fox in the open ice.
Karma came back to get Christian, though, as he took a double-minorfor interference and boardingwith 17 seconds left in the period. Union looked fresh again in the few seconds before the buzzer, but still went to the locker room trailing by four.
As the third period commenced, Union’s Lane Caffaro negated the power play with an interference minor of his own. The hosts continued crashing Mrazek’s net with great success, resulting in numerous scoring opportunities throughout the night, but the strategy was put on hold once more as Watters took another penalty at 4:20 of the frame.
Union finally broke through with 16 seconds left on the advantage, as Coyle found Matt Cook alone in the slot. Cook whipped it past Richter for his tenth goal of the season.
Richter took a penalty himself for tripping at 7:27, and Donato assigned Watters to serve the time in the penalty box.
“He looked comfortable in there,” joked the coach afterward.
While the penalty announcement was still in mid-declaration, Union cut the Crimson lead to two. Jason Walters won the left-wing draw in Harvard’s zone, and pulled the puck back to Cook, who found Caffaro for the open shot.
After ten more minutes of up-and-down action, Meintel put the game away from inside the right-wing circle. The hero of the day launched a wrist shot high that beat Mrazek far-side, over the lefty’s trapper.
“There are a lot of guys that play well when you win,” said Donato, who also praised Richter (30 saves) and Kevin Du (two assists and a number of quality scoring chances) in the win.
Union fell to 0-2 against Harvard on the season, and resides a point behind the Crimson for home-ice in the first round of the league playoffs.
With the victory, Harvard moved to within two points of fourth-place Cornell and the coveted first-round bye.
No rest for the weary, as Harvard returns to the Bright Hockey Center Saturday night to host Rensselaer. The team then faces Boston College in the late game of the Beanpot Tournament’s first round on Monday.
Union heads up the coast to Dartmouth, which beat RPI 5-2 on Friday night.