CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Following Harvard’s brutal 2-1 victory over Yale on Saturday night, victorious goaltender Justin Tobe said, “I’ve been waiting for my chance all year.”
The senior netminder may as well have been speaking for his entire team.
The Crimson ended Yale’s season in the minimum two games at the Bright Hockey Center, and Tobe surrendered only three goals on 47 shots in the series. Harvard exacted its revenge on the Bulldogs for taking both of the teams’ regular-season meetings, and left the visitors winless in six playoff games against the Cantabs.
The Elis played once more without leading scorers Sean Backman and Mark Arcobello, who head coach Keith Allain described simply as “not healthy.” The Blue and White could have used the offensive spark on Saturday, scoring only the single goal on 29 shots.
“I thought what you saw tonight was a little more characteristic of our team,” said Allain, whose squad lost 5-2 the previous evening.
Allain also changed things up in back, starting senior Matt Modelski over the season’s de facto number-one, Alec Richards, in net.
“I thought he’d give us the best chance to win,” Allain said.
His instinct looked sharp out of the gate, as Modelski and the ‘Dogs were tested early by moderate but sustained Crimson pressure. Yale took the game’s initial penalty at 4:22 of the first with junior Will Engasser’s slashing minor. It was the first of nine calls against the nation’s most-penalized team, which averages 23.6 penalty minutes per game.
With 40 seconds remaining on Engasser’s sentence, Modelski was buried while covering the puck by a pair of crashing Crimson forwards. The play resulted in matching minors, which were to be of no consequence.
Three more punishable infractions were whistled over the following six and a half minutes, including Harvard senior Ryan Maki’s minor for holding the stick at 12:12 of the first.
Yale made the most of its second power play, only 22 seconds into the advantage. Center Jean-Francois Boucher released a quick pass from the right-wing faceoff dot to Brad Mills, alone at the back door. Mills had no trouble planting the puck behind Tobe, who had scarce opportunity to make the sliding stop.
With 5:18 on the clock, the home side’s Paul Dufault had a short-range breakaway on Modelski. The goalie played his angles with patience and forced Dufault into a low-angle shot that Modelski denied with his left pad, in front of the post and flush to the ice.
Only two minutes later, Dufault had another opportunity. The third-year center received the puck in the slot, and set free a tumbling shot on net while being effectively assaulted by two Yale defenders. The puck hit Modelski in the torso, but the disc’s trajectory made it difficult to control and only the stalwart Eli defenders kept the aggressors from the crease long enough to allow Modelski to cover up.
While it appeared the 10th-seeded visitors might enjoy a lead at the first intermission for the second night in a row, the hosts were anything but complacent. Crimson sophomore Jimmy Fraser scored a goal with a 1:17 left that was reminiscent of Yale’s first goal Friday night. The zero-angle shot from Modelski’s right side rolled up the standing goalie’s leg, and didn’t stop rolling until it hit the back of the net.
The teams played to a draw for much of the second period, trading penalties and opportunities, though Yale appeared to dominate large chunks of the action. The impression was supported by the Bulldogs’ 15 shots in the frame, more than half of their sum for the game.
The 1,309 in attendance were slim in numbers, but big in intensity — even the schools’ bands were at odds, as Yale’s would play over Harvard’s tunes, and the Harvard pep band would one-up Yale’s by playing the same song the Blue and White had just completed.
With just under three minutes until the second break, Harvard defender Chad Morin fed Steve Rolecek up the middle, and the sophomore laid on the gas down the right side of the slot. As Rolecek was about to eclipse the goal line to the right of the net, Modelski pulled off the post, expecting a pass. Rolecek saw his chance, and put a quick shot low through the keeper’s open legs for his second goal of the season.
The third period featured flashes of brilliance but airtight defense held serve, as the rivals tallied only nine shots between them.
One awe-inspiring moment took place five minutes in, as the Crimson’s Mike Taylor athletically side-stepped Bulldog Robert Page at the top of Yale’s right faceoff circle. The winger broke unabated toward Modelski from low on the left wing side. Taylor dangled the puck tantalizingly across the low slot, forcing Modelski right-to-left, but the goalie deftly snared Taylor’s top-notch backhand to keep Yale’s deficit at its sheerest.
Allain finally pulled Modelski with 1:04 remaining and Yale on yet another penalty kill. The action generated a couple of modest chances, but in the end it was 2-1 on the scoreboard, and Harvard had advanced to the ECACHL quarterfinals.
Yale finished the season 11-18-3 in Allain’s first tour of duty coaching at his alma mater. Harvard improved to 13-16-3 overall in head coach Ted Donato’s 100th game behind his alma mater’s bench, and will play at either second-seeded Clarkson or third-seeded Dartmouth next Friday night.
The opponent will be determined with the outcome of the Brown-Princeton series, which advanced to a third game to be played on Sunday. With a Brown victory, the Cambridge club would day-trip it to Hanover to play the Big Green, while a Princeton win would send the Crimson to the North Country to play the Golden Knights.