BOSTON — To the 1,507 at Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center Tuesday night, the scene looked awfully familiar.
The Brown Bears – 0-4-1 in league play this season – absorbed everything the hosts threw at them, and scored a pair of opportunistic goals en route to a 4-1 win over the free-falling Crimson (1-7-2, 1-5-2 in ECAC Hockey). The win was the third straight for Brown (2-7-1, 1-4-1) against Harvard – all coming at Bright – going back to last year’s stunning first-round sweep in the league playoffs.
Sophomore netminder Michael Clemente, who was front-and-center for the playoff upsets last spring, stopped 18 first-period shots and 42 overall in another extraordinary performance. He was bolstered by timely goals by classmates Jarred Smith, Jeff Buvinow, Jack Maclellan and senior Aaron Volpatti.
Any time you can come into Harvard’s building and come out with a win, I think it’s a pretty good road trip, said Brown’s first-year head coach Brendan Whittet. It wasn’t perfect, the game had its ups and downs, but that’s hockey. I’m really proud of the way our guys played throughout.
Freshman Conor Morrison, two games removed from a four-goal performance against Boston University, scored the home team’s lone goal. Junior Kyle Richter made 29 saves in defeat.
To the four-dozen participating players and coaches in the arena, the game felt especially familiar.
We’re obviously frustrated, said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. I thought we played hard but shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of penalties here and there. I thought their goalie was outstanding, he really was, and we saw that act a bit last year in the playoffs.
The teams traded power plays twice over, but the first period’s only score came five-on-five courtesy of Smith’s crafty coordination.
Captain Jordan Pietrus looped a soft wrister on net from the top of the left-wing circle with two minutes to play, and Smith intercepted the bid in mid-air with a deft flick of the blade. The rubber took a hard dive, and connived its way past Richter for the 1-0 lead.
Harvard trailed on the scoreboard, but led 18-13 in shots on net after 20 minutes.
Clemente made a number of excellent stops in the period, but none as impressive as a 13th-minute denial on a Crimson three-on-one. With Rence Coassin coaxing the puck down the left-wing lane, Alex Biega and David Valek occupied the other slots in front of the Bears’ No. 1 netminder. Coassin dished the disc laterally to Biega, who tapped it on to Valek in a blur. The rookie winger dug for the one-time tally, but Clemente adroitly anticipated the play and booted the puck out of harm’s way.
Brown doubled Harvard’s misery 2:15 into the middle frame, as blueliner Buvinow wired a whistler from the 20 feet out to Richter’s right. Senior Devin Timberlake – Crimson escort in tow – cruised across the goalie’s face at the critical moment, eclipsing Richter’s view of the top-shelf shot.
The puck came up, I had a lot of time and just ripped it on net, stated Buvinow. Guys were going to the front, there was a good screen, and it just went in. The puck had eyes.
The Crimson finally solved Clemente at 13:15 of the second period, as Morrison banged home a pin-balling puck in the slot. The goal ended 191:35 of Brown defensive perfection against the Crimson, dating back to last season, as well as Clemente’s 153:15 shutout streak against the Crimson – all in Cambridge – which began with back-to-back clean sheets in last year’s ECAC Hockey first-round.
The period ended in throwback fashion, with a flurry of super-sized hits at both ends of the rink. The fistic free-for-all ended abruptly, as home rookie Alex Fallstrom found the officials’ line and crossed it in punishing fashion. With a handful of high-elbowed combatants occupying Harvard’s half-boards, Fallstrom took it upon himself to deck Brown frosh and leading scorer Chris Zaires from behind. The rookie needed help from the trainer to regain verticality, while Fallstrom was banished from the contest with a game misconduct and a five-minute major.
Bruno peppered Richter in the period’s final 55 seconds, but the scoreboard held static at the game’s second buzzer. The Cambridge club fired 15 shots Clemente’s way in the second to the Bears’ eight, but nonetheless it was Brown who took the ice with the clearcut advantage in the third.
The advantage ended as 87 percent of Brown power plays have this season – punchless – but four more minutes had been successfully bled from the clock, and the Bears held the 2-1 edge. Harvard earned its own opportunity with 8:30 on the clock, as Timberlake hauled down Coassin just inside the Brown zone.
That power play, too, ended without a goal as Crimson passes went errant and its plays fell apart under disciplined and ferocious Brown pressure.
It’s something we stress, winning the one-on-one battles and controlling the controllable, said Whittet, and obviously competing for pucks is something we can control, and I thought we did win a lot of those battles. We were very hungry and determined.
The Cantabs made another bid moments later, as an ethereal three-on-two evaporated in a snapshot put high and wide. With under five minutes to play, Harvard came within two inches of the equalizer as a Chris Huxley blast found Coassin’s stick on the way in. The puck changed course dramatically, dribbling to a stop against Clemente’s left post.
Harvard had a friend wearing stripes with 1:11 to play in regulation, as Brown senior Sean McMonagle was whistled for a dubious interference call behind the visitors’ net. Donato burned his time out, but Richter remained on the ice in no-man’s land. The decision may have cost the Crimson dearly, as a poorly executed pass escaped the Brown zone, ultimately allowing Brown to regroup.
You’ve got to understand, we haven’t had a lot of recent success, said Whittet of his bench’s mentality during the penalty kill, so you don’t want chaos on the bench. What I was trying to do was calm the guys down and get them in a positive frame of mind when they go out there; those are hard situations to kill.”
Richter escaped the surface with 55 seconds to play, only to watch Volpatti and Maclellan put the hosts to bed with two quick empty-net goals.
Harvard suits up once more on December 9 at home against Boston College, desperate to break a nine-game winless streak (0-7-2) that has enveloped its season since an opening-night win at Dartmouth. Fresh off its first two victories of the Whittet era – over Connecticut and now Harvard – Brown hosts ECAC heavyweights Princeton and Quinnipiac this weekend.