CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Friday night on the Bright Hockey Center’s ice, revenge was served-cold.
The Crimson responded to a 2-0 first-period deficit with five unanswered goals, burying the Bulldogs 5-2 in the first game of the ECACHL Tournament’s first round. It was Harvard’s first victory over Yale this season, having lost each of the two regular-season meetings with the Elis . . . including a 5-2 Yale win at Bright on November 18, which was only the second Bulldog win at the facility in 30 tries.
The host Cantabs had two fewer threats to worry about on the other bench, as Yale’s top two scorers-freshmen Sean Backman and Mark Arcobello-did not dress for unspecified reasons.
“We told our guys, ‘worry about who’s in, and not who’s out’,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato.
Yale coach Keith Allain refused to accept excuses.
“We’ve got a lot of capable hockey players in that locker room,” he said in the tunnel after the game. “They all play D-I hockey for a reason.”
Harvard’s biggest production came from an unlikely source, as senior defenseman and team captain Dylan Reese scored his seventh, eighth and ninth goals of the season for his first career hat trick, and a “natural” one at that. The six-foot-one New York Rangers prospect unloaded successful shots from the high point in the second and third periods, his goals uninterrupted by friend or foe.
“The first two were very similar,” he recalled. “I was just walking to the middle, taking shots. The third, I was trying to set up [Doug] Rogers for the one-timer, but he just didn’t want to take it, I guess,” Reese joked.
The game didn’t start as well as it finished for the Crimson. While the team played well on an early man-advantage, generating three superb scoring chances, it was Yale’s power play that struck first.
With sophomore Brian McCafferty doing time for a tripping call, rookie Bulldog Chris Cahill caught Crimson goalie Justin Tobe out of position and banked a zero-angle shot off the ‘keeper’s left pad and into the back of the net.
The sides traded penalties again over the next four minutes, and with 5:50 left in the first, Crimson blueliner Jack Christian winged a shot off Alec Richards’ left post. Yale shrugged off the close call with another goal at 18:16 of the first.
Third-year defenseman Robert Page settled just inside the Harvard blueline to the right of center, and flipped a soft, fluttering shot over the glove of a horrified Tobe. The senior goalie appeared jittery in the first 20 minutes; neither of his two goals allowed were terribly difficult shots.
After attaining the two goal lead, Allain sensed an over-eagerness on the part of his players to try to hold the lead, rather than to build on it.
“We played safer than I would’ve liked to see us play,” he said.
The second period commenced with the teams exchanging minors once more, but this time it was Harvard’s power play that capitalized.
Bulldog defenseman Brennan Turner was dismissed for an interference minor at 6:05 of the period. Only 36 seconds later, Reese collected his first of the night on a long, low zipper through traffic that eluded Richards’ pads.
The teams played tight, puck-possession hockey for the following seven or eight minutes, with a perceived premium placed on hitting and grinding. Cahill took one such action too far with 7:18 on the clock, and was called for slashing.
It was Reese once more, with 37 seconds remaining on the power play. The captain through the puck on net again, and it appeared to surprise Richards as it jumped over his right shoulder while he was down in a butterfly position.
Christian took a cross-checking penalty with 27 seconds to go in the second, but simultaneous minors to Yale senior Brad Mills and Page put the Crimson on a 1:33 four-on-three to start the third.
The brilliant power play unit notched Reese his third. After some ambivalent up-and-back passing around Yale’s collapsed three-man penalty kill, Reese finally teed it up and blew the puck through a screen that just slipped past Richards’ outstretched left skate.
Yale-the nation’s most-penalized team-began to lose its composure as the period wore on, taking two more penalties at 2:14 and 4:53 of the third.
The Crimson power play, already three for six at that juncture, didn’t let up and put home its fourth goal at 5:34 of the period. Freshman Doug Rogers took a cross-ice feed from McCafferty on the left-wing faceoff dot, and beat Richards chest-high to the far side with a wide-open wrist shot.
Harvard wasn’t done, scoring its fifth of the night with just under seven minutes to play.
Junior Alex Meintel flew around Richards’ net, and lifted a backhand over the belatedly recovering netminder for his 14th goal of the season. It was also Meintel’s 13th goal in his last 16 games, and 16th point in that span as well.
“We did a good job getting pucks to the net,” said Donato of his team’s decisive turnaround.
“A lot of [our success derived from] getting good traffic and getting pucks to the net.”
The Elis thought they’d drawn one closer with 3:08 on the clock, as Tobe appeared to lose track of the puck in his suddenly overpopulated crease.
However, the only thing referee Eugene Binda, Jr. meted out from the fracas was matching minors on Page and Harvard’s Jimmy Fraser.
The Crimson power play ended up four for nine on the game, while Yale’s was stymied with a meager one for seven performance.
The teams take to the ice Saturday night for the second game of the best-of-three series. Yale has never defeated Harvard in the conference playoffs, now falling to 0-5. Game time is 7 p.m. If necessary, the rubber match on Sunday would also be at 7pm in Cambridge.