BOSTON — In a game, a league, and a season as tight as this, Yale sophomore Kenny Agostino was almost baffled by how much space he had early in Friday night’s overtime session.
The New Jersey icer sneaked into a soft spot in the Harvard slot in the game’s 64th minute and took a feed from junior Antoine Laganiere on the left wing. Agostino patiently out-waited goaltender Raphael Girard with no defenders in sight; the cagey winger picked his spot and beat Girard to the far side, past the goalie’s blocker, to give Yale a 2-1 victory and bring the Bulldogs one step closer to a second straight ECAC Hockey championship.
“The reason I was able to have that time, really, is because [classmate] Jesse Root was able to drive the middle,” recounted Agostino. “He took my ‘D’ with him, ‘Lags’ was able to find me, and I had a lot of time and space to make a play.”
Rookie winger Trent Ruffolo scored the game’s first goal late in the first period, and junior Nick Maricic made 32 saves for the Bulldogs (16-14-3), who won in overtime for the first time this season (1-3-3). The Elis’ last OT victory was in last year’s NCAA tournament, advancing Yale past Air Force in Bridgeport, Conn.
“It was a hard game; it’s hard to win on the road, and Harvard’s a good team,” said triumphant coach Keith Allain, “but we were one goal better tonight.”
Junior center Luke Greiner accounted for Harvard’s only goal, and the star of the game was defeated goaltender Girard, who stopped a career-high 42 shots for the Crimson (10-9-11). The loss put Harvard’s season on the brink, necessitating two straight wins in order to advance the Cambridge club to the semifinals in Atlantic City next weekend.
“We’re disappointed in the result,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, “but I thought Girard played very well throughout the game to give us a chance. I thought they looked like the quicker team; they came up with a lot of loose pucks. We gave up far too many out-numbered rushes and scoring chances against.”
The Crimson launched the initial offensive, dominating the first 10 minutes of the game, but ultimately failing to capitalize. The Blue found their legs — and the back of the net — before Harvard had time to regroup and neutralize the dynamic Bulldogs’ attack.
Yale was the first to crack the code, as Ruffolo knocked a skittering puck past Girard in the game’s 16th minute. The Coral Springs, Fla. native benefited from center Clinton Bourbonais’ quick reflexes, as Bourbonais kicked the puck from the glove side of Girard’s crease across to Ruffalo at the far edge of the paint for the goal.
Pittsburgh product Root took the shine off Girard’s left post with barely a minute left in the period, but a quick video review confirmed that the bark did not precipitate another Bulldogs bite.
The visitors kept the throttle open in the second frame, forcing Girard to make a series of tough stops while his support staff struggled for traction. Bourbonais massaged the Harvard iron again halfway through the stanza when his 20-foot wrister tipped off Girard’s glove and bounced lightly off the post behind him. The goalie quickly flopped backward to cover the rubber, maintaining the 1-0 score.
The Crimson became the last ECAC quarterfinal participant to score with 27 seconds left in the second period. Greiner took a tip from classmate Danny Biega low to Maricic’s right side and slung the puck on net from a practically nonexistent angle. The biscuit banked off diving defender Colin Dueck and into the net, squaring the tilt entering the second intermission.
The Bulldogs held a 28-17 lead in shots through 40 minutes, and dominated the hosts everywhere but where it mattered most.
The skaters in the white sweaters regained consciousness in the third period, matching Yale in shots and opportunities. Freshman Colin Blackwell had perhaps the stanza’s best scoring chance — blasting a one-timer wide of a mostly empty net — but ultimately neither Ivy could billow the twine before the commencement of sudden-death overtime.
Agostino sent the crowd home tart, but not tardy, on Yale’s only shot of the extra session. The age-old rivals resume the best-of-three battle Saturday night, as each side hopes to extend its season by one more day.