BOSTON — On a brisk autumn evening that hinted at the winter to come, two Ivies went toe-to-toe in the quest to define themselves ahead of their own fierce and frigid season.
It was the Princeton Tigers who emerged victorious, edging tenacious Harvard 4-3 in front of 2,306 in the Crimson’s opening game of the 2011-12 campaign.
The win was the first of the season for the Tigers (1-2-1, 1-1-0 ECAC), who got goals from a member of each class in freshman Aaron Kesselman, sophomore Eric Carlson, junior Michael Sdao and senior Brodie Zuk. Princeton scored on three of four power plays as well, after starting the season only one-for-nine with the advantage. Sophomore Sean Bonar stopped 25 of 28 shots in victory.
“The guys did a really nice job,” said Princeton coach Bob Prier. “They communicated really well, and they all wanted the puck really bad when they were open. It’s a sign of confidence in our systems, something that we had to improve upon from our (5-2 loss) against Quinnipiac where we really didn’t have the puck much.”
The Crimson (0-1-0, 0-1-0 ECAC) wasted a two-goal performance by senior center Alex Killorn, and lost the special-teams battle despite scoring on one of its four power-play opportunities. Junior Luke Greiner also scored for Harvard and freshman goalkeeper Steve Michalek played well with 34 saves, many through heavy traffic.
“We felt like we did a decent job in the exhibition game and the scrimmage killing penalties, but they did a good job getting some pucks to the net,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “We would certainly like to make some adjustments. It looked like they had some pretty good screens on the goals they scored.
“Certainly, we have to do a better job killing penalties; they scored three power-play goals against us.”
First-period momentum swung heavily, as Princeton pressured the brand-new Harvard side with the game’s first five shots before Harvard countered with great intensity for much of the rest of the frame. Each team generated a couple of excellent scoring chances, but the only puck to find the twine in the opening stanza was the one that squeaked out of a scrum that enveloped Michalek with 55 seconds to the horn.
Zuk was credited with the power-play goal following a brief review, which found that while losing his footing, Harvard defenseman Danny Biega kicked the puck past his own goalie.
“I thought we had the puck tied up after watching the replay,” admitted Donato. “It was kind of a strange play, where it looked like they just pushed the goalie in the net.”
Sdao made the Tigers two-for-two on the power play six minutes into the second period, wiring a long shot from the right-wing point past a Jack Berger-screened Michalek. The goal was the third in four games for the Ottawa Senators prospect.
“I rimmed it around the boards… and Calof had the puck down in the corner, and slid it to the middle of the ice,” Sdao described. “I came over, Berger had an unbelievable screen in front – the goalie had no idea where the puck was – and I just tried to shoot it around him. Luckily, it went in.”
Tigers Matt Farris and Alec Rush took minors 23 seconds apart in the game’s 27th minute, but Harvard couldn’t get the puck moving quick enough to crack a lane in the Princeton defense. But then, just as power play expired, Killorn cracked a crisp one-time feed from Alex Fallstrom over Bonar’s glove from the far edge of the crease to halve Harvard’s deficit.
“Fallstrom just put it on a tee for me,” said Killorn of the goal. “I was able to one-time it into the top-right corner.”
The score held until the second intermission, with the Tigers leading in goals and shots.
The Jersey cats pounced again six minutes into the third, as Kesselman scored his first collegiate goal in his second NCAA game. He was in the right place to knock home a poorly handled rebound of sophomore Jeremy Goodwin’s long wrister, quieting the Crimson crowd, but only momentarily.
Fewer than two minutes later, Killorn potted his second of the night on the power play to draw Harvard within one once more. His 20-foot wrister from Bonar’s left circle tipped up off Sdao’s stick and into the top shelf, re-igniting the student section behind the Princeton net.
“There’s going to be ebbs and flows like that in the game,” said Prier. “You had two teams that have some pretty talented kids up front and like to play that way.”
Action continued to rock back and forth, as Calof was sprung for an 80-foot breakaway just moments later, but Michalek stuck with the puck on an attempted backhand deke to preserve the 3-2 score.
But the rookie ‘keeper couldn’t keep up with Carlson’s maneuvers with under nine minutes to play, as the winger tipped Derrick Pallis’ power-play slapper into the cage to renew Princeton’s two-goal cushion. Greiner kept the scorekeeper busy only 32 seconds later, slinging a forehand wrister chest-high on Bonar from the left wing circle. The rubber nicked Bonar’s glove before billowing the twine for Harvard’s third goal.
That was all she wrote however, as Bonar and the Tigers held firm until the final buzzer.
Princeton busses north to Hanover to tangle with Dartmouth on Saturday night, while Harvard simultaneously hosts red-hot Quinnipiac.