BOSTON — In a New England rivalry rich with legend and intrigue, the latest edition of the Harvard-Yale epic was ultimately composed by a fresh-faced foreigner.
Rookie Quebecois Louis Leblanc scored two goals to lead Harvard (3-10-2, 3-5-2 in ECAC Hockey) past No. 5 Yale (9-4-3, 5-2-2 ECAC Hockey) by a 3-2 margin in front of 2,153 at Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center. Classmate Alex Fallstrom also scored for the Crimson, and junior Ryan Carroll made 35 stops in net.
I think some of our guys were certainly tired after playing Friday and Saturday (in losses at Minnesota) and traveling all day Sunday, but I don’t think we were in a position to allow any excuses, said victorious coach Ted Donato. This was an important game for us in the standings; we need to put some wins together.
Junior Broc Little and senior Sean Backman scored for the Bulldogs, while freshman Jeff Malcolm made 19 saves in the loss.
We didn’t do enough of the things you have to do to win hockey games for the full 60 minutes, said a concise Yale coach, Keith Allain.
The game opened in a high-flying fashion suitable to two rocket-equipped teams. The officials only had cause to stop play twice in the first seven and a half minutes, as the puck wove up and back, but three penalties and increasingly heavy hitting eventually negated the track-meet pace.
Harvard sophomore Alex Killorn had the best chance of the period, drifting into a spot ten feet above Malcolm’s right post on the Crimson’s lone power play of the frame. He ran a give-and-go play with Leblanc, creating a bubble of space deep in Malcolm’s slot as Leblanc returned Killorn’s pass. The winger ripped a one-timer dead center on the net, but Malcolm was there with the chest stop.
Despite Killorn’s bid, Yale finished with a 12-4 shot advantage and carried a power play into the second stanza.
The second period was decidedly more frenetic, featuring four goals, 21 shots and five penalties. The jam factor escalated a few points as well, as the archrivals seemed to stand a broken beer bottle away from an all-out brawl.
Yale earned a double-boost just 36 seconds into the second, as Backman ripped a slap shot far-side on Carroll from the right-wing dot. The fact that the score came on the power play was worth a little extra juice to the Bulldogs, who had held a poor 13 percent conference rate on the advantage.
The lead didn’t last long, as Killorn reversed away from pressure low to Malcolm’s right a minute and a half later. The rotation opened up a backhanded pass to Leblanc, who had followed Killorn into the slot. The Montreal phenom made no mistake with the puck, slamming it through Malcolm for the equalizer.
Another, lesser-known import gave the Crimson the lead 1:04 later, as Fallstrom zipped a long one by Malcolm on the short side. A soft score, the goal was nonetheless the tiebreaker, and the first goal of Fallstrom’s brief career to date.
Leblanc popped another into Yale’s cage as the game approached its halfway point. In recognition for his bullish charge down the middle of the Bulldogs’ zone, the fates guided Ryan Grimshaw’s low left-wing blast straight back to the hard-charging Canadiens’ prospect. Leblanc saw little challenge in lifting the rebound over the fully extended netminder for the 3-1 lead.
Everything was clicking for the highly touted Francophone.
Yeah, for sure; you always hope to have these games, Leblanc stated. Obviously, (linemates and fellow Montrealers/Montralaise) Mike (Biega) and Alex and our D-corps and our goalie stepped it up today, everything was crisp tonight. Overall it was a good night for our team.
Allain, on the other bench, was frustrated by his team’s efforts leading up to Harvard’s three-goal outburst.
Up until that span, I thought we weren’t as hard as we needed to be, he said. After that span we got better, but sometimes it’s like trying to close the barn door after the horse gets out.
The sides traded power plays as the contest approached its second intermission, but the teams took to their dressing rooms with the score static and Yale outshooting Harvard 23-14.
The blue-clad Elis put themselves in hot water early in the third, taking consecutive penalties on the fresh sheet that effectively resulted in a 2:56 Harvard power play. Just as Jimmy Martin’s initial infraction elapsed, Killorn dented Malcolm’s right post with a 20-foot salvo. The Crimson shot themselves in the foot with 47 seconds to go on Ryan Donald’s penalty, however, as freshman Luke Greiner was whistled for a minor of his own at 3:21 of the third.
The rough stuff continued unabated, as a would-be boarding call instead ended up in the back of Carroll’s net. With an extra attacker on during the delayed penalty, Yale’s Little buried his 12th goal of the season from low to the goalie’s left with 14:38 yet to play in regulation.
Yale won a few more opportunities, though they didn’t come easy. The Crimson took what would have been their third straight skate to the box at 10:34 of the period in the form of a Chad Morin hook, and Yale’s Brian O’Neill returned the favor with a hook of his own only five seconds later. Third-year Bulldogs’ wingman Denny Kearney danced in tight on Carroll with under three minutes to go, but his shot deflected up into the crossbar as another near-miss.
Ryan looked solid, praised the goalie’s coach, despite some hairy moments. He made some good saves, and did a good job controlling the rebounds. The whole game, he looked comfortable.
The Bulldogs couldn’t maintain composure as the clock clicked down, as Little took a double-minor for hitting after the whistle and grabbing the facemask in an offensive-zone scrum.
The outcome terminated Yale’s seven-game league unbeaten streak, as well as its five-game run without an overall loss. The win was Harvard’s second in four games, but also only its second since a season-opening victory at Dartmouth; the Crimson are 2-10-2 since that game in Hanover.
This was an excellent opportunity; to play one of the top teams in the country at home and win it’s a nice win, said Donato. Hopefully, it’s a sign of good things to come.
Yale plays next on Saturday, hosting Brown for the Bulldogs’ lone game of the weekend. Harvard returns to the ice for another midweek game on Monday, January 18, at home against Dartmouth.