BOSTON — The calendar may read Feb. 1, 2016. But for the Harvard Crimson and coach Ted Donato, Monday night probably felt like Groundhog Day came a day early.
Monday was the ninth time since Donato took over behind the bench at Harvard that his club has faced a Jerry York-led Boston College team in the Beanpot. And after a 3-2 loss for the Crimson to the fourth-ranked Eagles in Monday’s Beanpot opening semifinal, Harvard remains winless against BC, a “perfect” 0-9.
Semifinals: Feb. 1
• Third place: Northeastern 5, Harvard 1
• Championship: Boston College 1, Boston University 0 (OT)
But it was the power play — and more specifically special teams in general — that was the Crimson’s downfall in the game.
Though Harvard fell behind 1-0 early, it answered with two quick goals by Ryan Donato and Adam Baughman less than five minutes apart midway through the first to grab the lead.
Less than 90 seconds after Baughman’s tally, Harvard went on the power play when BC’s Alex Tuch was called for holding. Certainly it was early, but a tally with the man advantage could give the Crimson control of the game.
The two minutes ticked away with hardly a Grade A opportunity.
The converse didn’t happen for Boston College in the second period. It received two chances with the man advantage and, despite Harvard entering the game with the eighth-best penalty kill in the nation, the Eagles’ power play struck twice.
“These were two really good offensive teams that didn’t allow many rushes,” said Donato. “BC won the special teams game, going 2-for-2 on the power play with two plays at the front of our net. And they did a good job against our power play, which has been successful all year.
“I don’t think we executed. We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be or as we usually are. I give BC a lot of credit for that.”
Which leads to another major difference-maker that often goes overlooked in this tournament: experience.
Legendary Boston University coach Jack Parker, who led his Terriers to 21 titles and 33 championship game appearances in his 40 seasons, used to make a point to note that he would tell his players before the third period of a close game that the other team was down the hall panicking.
It was Parker’s belief, and probably rightfully so, that winning in the Beanpot begets winning. The results prove that to be true. Only Boston University or Boston College has hoisted the silver jug around the Garden ice since 1993, when Harvard last won. Northeastern hasn’t won since 1988, and all four of that school’s titles came in a nine-year span.
So when you wonder why a team like Harvard, which has been clicking successfully since day one this season and hasn’t been below ninth in the national polls since Nov. 2, couldn’t execute on the biggest stage, maybe one only needs to consider exactly that.
This is one big stage.
It’s maybe not as big in terms of the final prize as the ECAC Hockey tournament, which Harvard won a season ago and which it has captured four times since the turn of this millennium.
But the magnitude of this tournament is something that often escapes those who haven’t experienced it. It’s a magnitude that can make confident teams nervous and even the nation’s best players appear average.
The good news for Harvard is there is still plenty of bright future ahead this season. There is a regular season and postseason ECAC title and an Ivy League title still at stake. And this is a team that has had NCAA aspirations since losing to Omaha in its NCAA opener a year ago.
That, however, won’t make Monday night any easier, at least for now.
“There’s obviously a lot to play for the rest of the way, whether it’s the Ivy League or the ECAC and, hopefully we play well enough to make it to the NCAAs as well,” said Donato. “At this moment, though, it doesn’t mean this is any less frustrating.”