CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard head coach Ted Donatos undefeated 19-0-0 home record in February and unbeaten streak of 11-0-4 in post-Beanpot league games was no match for Rensselaer on Friday. Harvard squandered early momentum and an early lead, falling to the Engineers 5-4.
I thought it was a wild first two periods, Donato said. We got a couple of goals early and we started to cheat, and then they got some outnumbered rushes. We talked about doing a job on their main line, but [RPI winger Jerry] DAmigo had a goal and [center Chase] Polacek had two. That was probably the difference in the game.
The Crimson came out firing early, making the offensive drought during the Beanpot a distant memory. Harvard center Doug Rogers drew first blood, lighting the lamp for the Crimson with a slap shot off the right post only 18 seconds in to the opening frame.
At 1:51, Harvard winger Michael Biega put the Crimson up 2-0 and compensated for a recalled Crimson goal just seconds before by rifling a shot from the slot past Engineers netminder Allen York.
RPI got on the board midway through the first period during a four-on-four with a quick tally on the doorstep from DAmigo at 11:05. The Crimson took advantage of RPI defender Mike Bergins holding penalty at 12:44 when winger Conor Morrison fired a slap shot from the high slot that rookie Alex Fallstrom redirected past York stickside on the man advantage.
Harvards early momentum faltered late in the first period, allowing RPI two quick tallies just nine seconds apart. The Engineers drew within one goal when winger Bryan Brutlag tucked the puck past Crimson goaltender Ryan Carroll in traffic at 14:27. Polacek chased Carroll from the game and added his first of two goals on the night to his team-leading 20 goals at 14:36 to knot the game at three goals apiece.
We are up 2-0 and then give up a tough goal right off of a faceoff on a 4-on-4, and then we answer back with a big goal on the power play, the Fallstrom goal, said Donato. And then they score two goals in 30 seconds. I think we are in a little bit of a tough stretch right now, but there are reasons for it.
The second period opened with the same frenetic scoring, with Harvard and RPI each picking up their fourth goal in the early minutes of the middle frame. The Crimson netted their second shot on goal at 4:04, putting Harvard up 4-3 when Morrison, on a quick dish from Rogers, slipped the puck between York and the left post.
The Engineers answered back at 6:55, when Polacek sent a shot up Harvard netminder Kyle Richters arm that landed just under the crossbar.
It was RPIs fifth and final goal, however, that sealed the Crimsons fate. With Harvard blueliner Danny Biega warming the sin bin on a tripping call for just six seconds, Engineers center Brandon Pirri — who leads the ECAC rookies in scoring — buried a slap shot from the top of the left circle past Richters far side to give RPI a 5-4 lead at 9:31 in the middle frame.
We did a pretty good job [on their power play] most of the night but they have some real skill there, Donato said. The [power play] shot they scored on was a heck of a shot.
RPI never relinquished its lead. Despite a rocky start, York buckled down and stonewalled the Crimsons last twenty-three shots on net, holding the Crimson scoreless for the remaining thirty-six minutes of play.
I thought, oddly enough, in the third period we played our best, Donato said. But as tough of a start as York had, he was pretty solid. We werent able to get a lot of second or third looks on him.
Not only did the Crimson fail to solve York in the final frame, but Harvard could not capitalize on three RPI penalties scattered throughout the third period.
[Harvards] power play moved the puck around early pretty well, Donato said. Later in the game I dont think it was as effective.
Harvards remaining five games of the regular season — headlined by tomorrows matchup against No. 16 Union — are key. With the loss, Harvard failed to capitalize on losses by St. Lawrence and Colgate and pick up crucial points in the quest for a first-round playoff bye.
Every point counts now, Donato said. We want to be playing our best hockey for the end of the year in the playoffs. Everybody is bunched up in the standings and we need to take advantage of these home games. We want to try to get home ice in the playoffs and these next games will have a large impact on that.