CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard goaltender Matt Hoyle’s pads are 37 inches long from top to toe. St. Lawrence goalie Alex Petizian’s, 33 inches.
The five inches were the difference.
The Crimson (4-2-0, 4-2-0 ECAC Hockey) won the intense, fast-paced contest 1-0 in front of 2,503 at the Bright Hockey Center Saturday night. Matt McCollem scored the game’s only goal, the freshman Hoyle earned his first collegiate shutout, and the locals kept SLU off the board despite seven Saints’ power plays.
“We’re excited; I thought our guys battled to the end,” said relieved Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “Though we’d like to stay out of the box a little more, and not make it so hard on ourselves.”
Petizian stopped 35 of 36 for the Saints (4-4-1, 1-2-1) in the hard-luck loss, including 16 in the second period alone.
“It was a tough game, a 1-0 loss; they did a great job on defense,” said SLU veteran coach Joe Marsh. “We fell into some old habits, lazy penalties, a lot of hooking-type calls.”
The opening 20 minutes didn’t produce any goals, but it wasn’t short on action. Both goalies were sincerely tested, having to make point-blank stops in sub-optimal positions. Hoyle lost track of the disc in a scrum midway through the period, and trusted the odds by making a blind split-stop through traffic.
A few minutes later, Petizian blocked Alex Killorn’s initial stop with his chest, but the rebound landed to the goalie’s left on the stick of charging Pier-Olivier Michaud. The junior backstop made the only play he could, denying Michaud’s shot with his toe.
Harvard led on the shot board at the first horn, forcing Petizian to make 13 stops to Hoyle’s nine.
St. Lawrence opened the period by taking a protocol infraction incurred before the teams went to the locker rooms. A point of emphasis for the officials this year, Augie DiMarzo was penalized for skating onto the ice after the first-period horn to congratulate Petizian. SLU killed the penalty, but Marsh was beside himself.
“I have a real problem with it,” he fumed after the game of refs Chip McDonald and Bryan Hicks’ discretion. “I’ll probably get in trouble for it, but it was one guy, after a hell of a first period. There’s something to be said for feel.”
Harvard rearguard Brian McCafferty put a scare in the Saints with an iron-ringing salvo just following the power-play, but the rebound took a Scarlet bounce out of danger.
Petizian was the first to feel the red light on his back just before the game’s halfway mark. Killorn spun a snapshot on net, which rebounded softly across to McCollem, who planted the chance to cap a frenetic Crimson rush.
“On the power play, we stressed getting the puck to the net,” said the sophomore from nearby Somerville, Mass. “We were getting a lot of shots on, and I figured I’d just stand there. Alex Killorn got a shot on, and it bounced out to me.”
The Cambridge club applied consistent pressure on the Saints, drowning Petizian in a 17-shot torrent to match the blustery conditions outside. The red-clad road team earned a 1:30 five-on-three that straddled the intermission; the Saints tested the home whites to end the second, but couldn’t break Hoyle’s zero before the buzzer.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Marsh sighed. “We just couldn’t seem to make it click.”
Harvard held its nil through the remainder of the kill, and DiMarzo took a minor immediately thereafter to exacerbate St. Lawrence’s misery. The Crimson failed to convert, but built significant momentum from the advantage.
“That was a huge kill,” said Donato. “We dug down deep. I’m really proud of the way we battled.”
Of the penalties, of which Harvard has incurred myriad early this season, Donato said, “We have to recognize that just because we have a penalty doesn’t mean that the ref isn’t going to call another one. At least half of them [tonight] we could’ve avoided.”
The Cantonites held tough despite the diminishing amount of sand in their hourglass. Consecutive power plays in the ninth and 11th minutes of the third brought the significant Saints section to its feet, and the North Country crew pressed the Crimson for long stretches of play.
“That old adage that ‘the goaltender has to be your best penalty killer’ was certainly the case,” exhaled Donato.
However, Mike McKenzie’s hooking minor with 3:33 to play short-circuited SLU’s momentum, and Harvard was able to grind the clock to triple-zeds for the four-point weekend.
“Things worked out, the team was great in front of me,” said Hoyle of his first clean sheet. “It’s always tough to get the first shutout, so it should come easier from here.”
The Saints dropped both of games on the weekend with Friday’s loss at Dartmouth, and return home to face defending league champ Princeton next Friday. The Crimson go for three straight wins, all of the league variety, at Brown on Tuesday night.