PRINCETON, N.J. — For most of the night it appeared that Harvard would escape with its fourth straight victory at Princeton in four years, but that all unraveled in the final eight minutes of play on Saturday evening.
The host Tigers tied the game on a deflection by freshman Matt Arhontas, and then sophomore center Kevin Kaiser shot out of the penalty box, corralled a loose puck at center ice off a blocked shot, skated in and put it past Crimson sophomore goaltender Kyle Richter with 2:36 remaining in regulation before 2,043 at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink for a 2-1 Princeton triumph.
“Today was my birthday, so it was lot of fun,” said Kaiser, who turned 21, of his game-winner. “It’s one of the biggest goals I’ve ever scored, and I’ve never heard this building that loud.”
Princeton (8-8-0, 6-4-0 ECACHL) won its third straight game overall since Dec. 30, and its first at home against Harvard since Dec. 2003, while the Crimson (6-7-3, 5-4-2 ECACHL) are now winless in their last seven outings.
“Give them credit,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato of the Tigers. “They kept coming, and we have to learn to not be satisfied with a one-goal lead and to go after the other team.”
“I thought it was a great game, exciting and quick” said Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky. “The officiating was excellent. They let us play, and overall it was the way hockey should be.”
Richter finished with 34 saves, while Princeton sophomore netminder Zane Kalemba made 31 stops. The Tigers outshot the Crimson, 36-32, including 32-19 in the final 40 minutes, while Harvard recorded 13 of the game’s first 17 shots on goal.
“Give Harvard a lot of credit,” said Gadowsky. “I don’t think we were flat, but Zane made some huge saves, and Harvard’s a great hockey club.”
The Crimson took the lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the opening period when Michael Del Mauro fed Jimmy Fraser all alone in front, and Fraser one-timed the puck past Kalemba’s blocker at 11:48 for his first goal of the season.
“I thought in the first period we controlled it five-on-five and really took the play to them,” said Donato. “In the second period, we had a tough time staying out of the box, but Richter came up huge.”
Richter made a pad save on Mark Magnowski’s one-timer with 15:34 left in the second period, and then Harvard was forced to kill off three concurrent penalties midway through the middle stanza to preserve its one-goal advantage. Jon Pelle was whistled for both tripping and interference at 10:35 after hauling down Mike Kramer as he went to the Harvard goal, and Richter was called for high-sticking at 11:43 after striking Dan Bartlett in the helmet after Bartlett had crashed the Crimson net.
Richter then turned aside all Princeton chances while facing over five continuous minutes of power-play time, and registered 18 stops in the entire period. He also made perhaps his best save of the night with 1:32 left before intermission when he sprawled out along the goal mouth to deny Brett Wilson’s re-direction in front off of a Lee Jubinville pass from the left circle.
“I thought we got a lot of opportunities,” said Gadowsky. “Give Richter credit.”
The Tigers finally broke through with just 7:19 left in the third period. Following an icing against Harvard and a subsequent face-off in the Crimson zone to Richter’s right, the puck came back to Jody Pederson at the left point, and his slap shot through a crowd was tipped home by Arhontas for his first career collegiate goal, with Stankievech assisting.
“We tried to regroup, but I didn’t like the way we handled the pressure,” said Donato. “I’m not saying we sat back, but we iced the puck too often and we didn’t make plays coming up the ice.”
Stankievech made one more big play, perhaps the biggest of the night, as the seconds wound down on a tripping penalty to Kaiser at 15:18 of the final period, as he dropped to the ice and blocked a Harvard shot from the right point at the Princeton blue line. The puck caromed out to center ice just as Kaiser stepped out of the penalty box and then raced away with it, with a Harvard defender in pursuit.
“I settled the puck down and I knew he was coming on me hard, and all I was thinking about was pulling the trigger quick,” said Kaiser, who skated into the slot and fired the puck past Richter on the stick side to bring the near-capacity crowd to its feet. “My game is shooting, and I practiced that shot to the low blocker side all week in practice.”
He also gave due credit to Stankievech, who has made it a habit of using his body to negate opposing offensive opportunities.
“That was a huge block by Landis,” said Kaiser. “He does it all the time.”
“Kevin was the perfect guy to get it to,” said Gadowsky. “He’s an incredible workhorse, and it’s guys like that who score huge goals.”
Princeton weathered the final few minutes as Harvard pulled Richter for an extra attacker. The Crimson got several chances in-close, with Princeton defenders diving everywhere to help keep the puck away from Kalemba, and Jubinville won a final face-off in the Princeton zone with just two seconds left to seal the victory.
“I felt all game that we were battling and that we had a chance,” said Kaiser. “We hit some posts and had a few go wide, but no one gave up and we knew it would go in if we just kept working.”
Princeton visits Yale and Brown next weekend, while Harvard hosts St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The Tigers and Crimson will meet again on Feb. 15 at Harvard.