BOSTON — Union’s interstellar goals-per-game average went down, as did its power-play percentage and average margin of victory … but it was a victory nonetheless as the high-flying Dutchmen gutted out a brutal 2-1 win over Harvard in each team’s ECAC Hockey opener.
Union extended its unbeaten streak to six games (4-0-2) and scored on the power play for the ninth time in its young nine-game campaign. Junior center Kelly Zajac and second-year blue-liner Greg Coburn lit the lamp for the visitors, senior Adam Presizniuk assisted on each goal to achieve a few momentous marks, and sophomore Keith Kinkaid stopped 15 shots for the victory.
“We showed a lot of poise,” said Union head coach Nate Leaman. “They came a lot harder on the forecheck in the third period. … but I thought we showed a lot of poise out there and made some great plays.
“Union hemmed us in our end quite a bit; I thought Kyle Richter was outstanding for us. We showed a little bit of life in the third period—Kyle kept us within one shot—but there’s a lot of things that go into our disappointment in our play.”
Sophomore defenseman Danny Biega scored the lone goal for the Crimson (0-1-0 overall, 0-1-0 in the ECAC), who let an outstanding 33-save performance by senior netminder Kyle Richter go to waste.
“I think it was pretty obvious, we got outplayed for most of the game,” assessed Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “Certainly credit to Union; they had a lot to do with how we played … but we also made some real poor decisions with the puck.”
The teams took the ice for what was initially more demolition derby than hockey game. Harvard looked intent on beating, bludgeoning, bashing and bullying the skilled Dutchmen off their game from the get-go, and the strategy seemed to work to some extent: in a penalty-free, 24-minute first period, Union out-shot the Crimson 11-3, but quality scoring chances were minimal for both sides.
Union (6-1-2, 1-0-0) finally broke the draw at 8:30 of the second stanza by turning the Aussie Rules football match into a basketball game. Presizniuk took a shot from the left-wing slot, and bagged an easy offensive rebound with nary a Crimson defender in sight. Presizniuk dangled across the slot, drawing Richter with him. He was denied on the put-back, but the rock bounced right to a trailing Zajac for the wide-open bucket.
“I was the third guy high there, and the puck came up to me. I saw ‘Prezzie’ go to the net, so I just tried to throw it in to him,” said Zajac. “He was controlling the puck like he always does—it’s hard to get him knocked off it—and he tried to shoot it, and the puck bounced back my way. I had an open net there and just fired it in.”
The officials finally called their first penalty of the game with under three minutes left in the period—a holding call against Harvard’s Dan Ford – to put the nation’s best power play to work. The Dutchmen controlled the puck well during the advantage, which reached its apogee in a crush of bodies and fists in Richter’s crease. Rookies Daniel Carr and Josh Jooris couldn’t slip it by the senior ‘keeper in the midst of the scrum, as the Crimson collapsed upon them in defense of the pretzeling Richter.
“It can get frustrating when you’re getting the chances you’re getting,” said Leaman of Richter’s grand larceny. “He had a heck of a game. He showed why his sophomore year he was Goalie of the Year … he was absolutely on tonight, and it would’ve been easy for us to get frustrated and get away from our process.”
After 40 minutes, Harvard wasn’t so much “hanging around” as Union was failing to take flight: The Dutchmen out-shot their hosts 12-5 in the second frame for a 23-8 edge overall.
The Cantabs got their first power-play opportunity of the season a minute and a half in to the third, but stationary positioning and a general sense of reluctance allowed Union to break up the power play with a mid-penalty clear, and Harvard didn’t muster a shot on net.
Jooris was on the spot yet again as Union’s second power play expired, ripping a hip-high one-timer on net from Richter’s left, but the veteran backstop was there for the big glove save.
The save proved enormous, as Biega out-waited Kinkaid on a right-wing rush just seconds later. Decelerating as he approached the goal line to goalie’s left, the Carolina draft pick suckered Kinkaid into an outstretched sprawl before banking the equalizer off the ‘keeper’s grounded mitt from behind the goal line.
But the euphoria was oh-so-temporary, as the Dutchmen struck back almost five minutes later. Fresh into their third power play of the evening, Presizniuk pulled a clean faceoff win back to classmate John Simpson. Simpson rifled the puck left-to-right to Coburn, who crushed the rubber through traffic and past Richter’s right-skate kick at 13:38 of the third.
“Eventually, it was going to take a perfect shot to get by him, and we got one,” summed Leaman.
“It was a great play by ‘Prez’ to win the draw, and then over from Simpson; I just tried to get it on net, and luckily it went in,” described Coburn of his third goal of the year, all of the PPG variety.
Not only did the goal ultimately prove to be the game-winner, but Presizniuk’s corresponding assist drew him even with 2009 graduate Jason Walters for Union’s D-I career points record with 115 … <i>and</i> it also tied him with Joel Beal (’05) for the program’s D-I record for career assists (74).
“Both [centers] got kicked out, so I don’t think their guy was a centerman either. I’ve played center quite a bit, so I’m used to taking draws,” Presizniuk said of his record-tying win. “It feels good” to achieve that mark, he said, but “I didn’t realize it until one of the guys just told me. It feels better to get that first ECAC win though.”
Union puts its hot streak on the line Saturday night at Dartmouth, while Harvard simultaneously hopes to rebound against Rensselaer.