BOSTON — While Boston University and Boston College are pretty safe bets in the Beanpot, the Vegas line is a push every time Harvard and Northeastern square off.
The two programs met for the ninth consecutive year in this 55th edition of the midwinter tournament, and despite the unavailability of their top three goal-scorers, the Huskies defeated the Harvard side 3-1.
“Northeastern played a solid, smart game,” said Crimson head coach Ted Donato, whose team failed to replicate last year’s 5-0 consolation whitewash of NU, and dropped to 3-4-1 overall in its last eight games.
“There was a lot of buzz last week about Northeastern hockey and there were quite a few people who thought we might be a favorite,” said Husky coach Greg Cronin of the team that was on a 4-1-0 tear before last week’s opening-round loss to BU.
“We played kind of a stinker against BU, then played a real stinker at [UMass]-Lowell” in 4-0 and 1-0 losses, respectively. “So this game was important, especially coming off a 5-2-2 stretch in January.”
The Huntington Hounds did just that, finding instant energy on their first shift of the game. Crimson senior netminder Justin Tobe — playing for the first time in 11 games — played a dumped puck too softly behind his own net, resulting in a quick flurry of opportunities for the goal-starved Huskies (two goals in their last four games).
“The first shift was a good omen — maybe a bad omen,” Cronin said, on second thought. “We hit the pipe, missed an open net, and put [the puck] right into the kid.” However, Cronin decided that it was a real shot in the arm for an up-and-down club.
Despite the quick start, the game yielded little excitement for rest of the first frame. Harvard’s Mike Taylor nailed a post of his own behind freshman netminder Brad Thiessen at the 6:10 mark, and Crimson center Paul Dufault nearly outwaited Thiessen on a left-to-right dangle a minute later, only to have the puck cleared safely from the Husky crease.
The Huskies skated an altered lineup from that ultimately desired by Cronin, who was without the services of Chad Costello, Mike Morris and Joe Vitale. The trio had combined for 23 of the Hounds’ 67 goals this season, better than a third of the team’s cumulative offense.
“With a number of guys hurt or sick, to me this was one of those games you really have to dig and bite and scratch and claw at to get a win,” he said.
Harvard had a brilliant opportunity to crack the goose-eggs when second-year winger Nick Coskren broke in alone on Thiessen three and a half minutes into the period. The ‘tender coolly denied the five-hole bid, sending NU on a prompt counterattack the other way.
On the ensuing rush, Husky senior Ray Ortiz made Harvard pay for its carelessness, slinging a bullseye wrister over Tobe’s right shoulder from low in the left-wing circle.
Six minutes into the second period, third-year Crimson Jon Pelle again tested Thiessen on a close-range side-to-side drag, but was hauled down in a non-call before he could bury the wandering disc.
The Ivy skaters broke through at 8:52 of the period, as hot-handed Alex Meintel blasted a breakaway slapshot from the left side through Thiessen’s right armpit. It was Meintel’s 10th goal of the season, and fifth in his last five games.
Northeastern took the lead right back, though, with a power-play goal at 15:54. With defenseman Dave MacDonald off for a tripping minor, the Crimson were ironically burned by having too many of their own sweaters in Tobe’s crease.
When a Husky shot caromed wide, senior Joe Santilli slid the puck toward an overcommitted Tobe from behind the Crimson goal line. The rubber slid behind the netminder and out toward open ice on Tobe’s left, but freshman blueliner Chad Morin found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as his skate inadvertently guided the puck into Tobe’s cage.
The teams traded penalties early in the final frame, but Northeastern potted the period’s only goal at the halfway mark. With Harvard defender Brian McCafferty backpedaling in the face of a two-on-one, Santilli turned McCafferty around with a smooth pass to sophomore Husky Rob Rassey. The center had no problem hammering the puck past a diving Tobe for his second goal of the season.
Defender Jim Driscoll had an opportunity to add a fourth goal to the Huskies’ scoresheet with time winding down, but sent his breakaway bid onto the third-floor patio of a one-story house.
Donato downplayed the disenchanting effect of playing in the five o’clock consolation round.
“We don’t play enough games to have letdown games,” he said.
“They outworked us and outhit us … for too much of the game, we didn’t do the little things [necessary to win]. We weren’t paying the price to get pucks out,” Donato concluded.
Cronin was pleased with his team’s performance, explaining that it kept the program in line to achieve its post-break goal of a .500 season.
“We’ve made some vibes here in my second year. This year we have 11 wins; last year we had three.”
The Huskies dive back into Hockey East play with a home-and-home with Providence next weekend. The Hounds face crosstown, league, and Beanpot nemesis BU at home to conclude the regular season on February 28.
Despite the poor result, Harvard still rides a four-game unbeaten streak in ECACHL play, and is 6-2-1 in its last nine league matches. It is probable that the Crimson will have to win the league tournament to qualify for the NCAA postseason, and will go to work on wresting an advantageous seed at Yale and Brown this weekend. The team wraps up its regular season at the Bright Hockey Center against Colgate and archrival Cornell on February 23 and 24.