BOSTON — An extra week off is valuable in any business, and ECAC Hockey is certainly no exception. With a bye on the line in the regular-season finale, Harvard and Clarkson slugged it out for 60 minutes; it was no surprise that the week was won on a few exceptional plays by a few exceptional players.
Junior center David Valek scored twice — his third and fourth goals of the pivotal weekend — to pace the Crimson (10-8-11, 8-5-9 ECAC) to a 3-2 victory in front of 2,417 on Senior Night at the Bright Hockey Center. Classmate Alex Fallstrom preceded Valek’s deuce with a goal of his own, local freshman Tommy O’Regan added two assists, and sophomore Raphael Girard turned away 27 shots and contributed his first career assist to the cause.
“The game really had a playoff feel to it, right from the start,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “All game, I felt that our effort was there. We shot ourselves in the foot with a few penalties, but all in all, it was two teams that are playing pretty well right now.”
The win cemented Harvard’s first playoff bye (earned by virtue of a top-four finish) since early 2008, which was also the last time the Crimson ended the regular season as high as this year’s third-place finish.
“It’s pretty important to us; we wanted to get home ice and a bye, and to have a chance in the final weekend, it was important that we took advantage of it,” Donato stated. “To get two home wins, coming back as we did tonight, throwing 16 shots in the third period, being down 2-1, it shows a lot of character. For me — I’ve been at this eight years — this has been a really fun group. Resilient.”
“It’s definitely good for our team right now,” said senior captain Ryan Grimshaw. “It’s a little bit different this year. We’ve been carrying ourselves the whole year… kind of a different twist this year, without the losing streaks. We kept it rolling and built off the Beanpot this year [where Harvard finished third].”
Freshman Kevin Tansey scored his second goal of the season for Clarkson (15-15-6, 9-9-4), senior Louke Oakley, his 16th, and senior Paul Karpowich made 31 stops in defeat. The Knights fell all the way to the seventh seed with the loss.
“That was a great hockey game,” said Clarkson coach Casey Jones. “I thought our kids played hard all night — we’re fighting through some injuries, and all that right now — and I thought our kids gave forth a good effort. It just didn’t go our way.”
Four minutes in, Karpowich made a brilliant left-to-right recovery to boot away a cross-crease one-timer by Harvard’s Colin Moore. The Knights were tested again later in the period when Alex Boak’s stick snapped on an attempted clearing play; the Crimson intercepted and popped off a number of shots, but Karpowich got a helping hand with a couple key blocks to keep the puck out of the net.
Tansey potted his second goal of the year with under a minute remaining in the opening frame, slipping a greasy puck past Girard with 48 seconds on the clock. The period only got worse for the hosts, as rookie Patrick McNally took an interference minor with 16 seconds left, and fisticuffs at the buzzer resulted in two additional penalty minutes for each side.
The Crimson survived McNally’s minor without a change in the score, but the kill was the first of three that Harvard had to endure early in the second period. With a Petr Placek tripping minor only 16 seconds from its termination, Grimshaw was called for a hit-from-behind barely five minutes into the frame.
Clarkson wasn’t about to let another chance slip through its hands, and Oakley saw to that with a low-angle shot off Girard’s arm and into the twine with one second remaining on the five-on-three.
Harvard killed the remaining penalty time and followed it up a minute later with a power play of its own, but failed to convert. The whistles kept coming, but now in the home team’s favor: Clarkson’s Corey Tamblyn was assessed a tripping minor, and right off the faceoff, teammate Ben Sexton was whistled for slashing. With Girard off the ice for the extra attacker, Fallstrom found enough real estate to rip a harpoon right by Karpowich and halve the Golden Knights’ lead.
“I thought the game was pretty even in the first period,” Donato said. “We took a few penalties in the first half of the game that kinda stopped us from creating any kind of momentum, but once we got on the board, I think we were able to play much better.”
Tech fought through the remainder of the period to retain its one-goal lead, and the teams took to their locker rooms with the Knights holding a 19-18 lead in shots — despite Harvard’s overwhelming 27-8 dominance in the faceoff circle.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of pucks,” Jones said. “We talked about that between periods. They were getting low, and we weren’t even neutralizing them, we were losing them. It’s a puck-possession game, and they were getting possession a lot.”
After three more draws — and three more Harvard wins therein — Valek knotted the contest with a true snipe from just beyond the left-wing dot. His wrister at 2:07 of the period beat Karpowich blocker-high, bopping the Gatorade bottle off the top of the net and rebounding back into play as quickly as it went in. The puck was in and out of the cage so fast, it necessitated a video review that was promptly upheld.
“The coaches always say ‘shoot the puck, and good things will happen.’ I just kinda drag, shoot, and somehow it just went in,” Valek recalled. “It was pretty easy to see from the ice” that it was in.”
The wobbly wheels on Clarkson’s bye bid came a little looser five minutes later when Needham, Mass.-born O’Regan blocked a shot at his own blue line, picked up the puck at center ice, and danced around one Golden Knights backchecker in the offensive zone before positively freezing sophomore Chase Fuchs with a nifty dangle at the left-wing dot. The move freed him up to feed Valek on the other wing for the easy one-timer.
“Tommy O’Regan had a huge blocked shot in the defensive zone,” said Valek. “The puck bounced out into the neutral zone, he just dangled through guys and passed it to me on an empty net. I just tapped it in.”
Jones pulled Karpowich with just over two minutes to play, and though the Knights applied furious pressure for the last minute of action, Girard denied them the equalizer.
Clarkson returns home to host 10th-seeded Rensselaer for a first-round best-of-three at Cheel Arena next weekend; Harvard will await the second-highest remaining seed to emerge from next week’s elimination round.