Goals never come easy in ECAC Hockey, and that maxim was never truer than Saturday night at Harvard. On an evening where lights-out Union was held to a scoreless draw at Dartmouth, the Engineers and Crimson nearly suffered a similar fate in front of 2,337 at the Bright Hockey Center.
Junior center Alex Killorn punched one through Rensselaer goalie Allen York with 8.2 seconds remaining to lift Harvard to its first win of the year, thanks in large part to senior Kyle Richter’s 19 saves and the Crimson’s perfect 5-for-5 penalty killing unit.
“Obviously, we’re happy with the win,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “The game was very evenly contested. Give a lot of credit to RPI, they’re a very good hockey team with good players and a good coach, and they battled ’til the end. I thought our goaltender was excellent, as was theirs; we had a couple of posts go in our favor, and obviously Alex Killorn made a nice play at the end of the game to win it.”
No. 18 Rensselaer dropped its first decision since an opening-weekend loss at Colorado College, terminating a nation-best unbeaten streak at seven games (4-0-3). Junior netminder York stopped 22 of 23 in the excruciating last-minute loss.
“It was a typical tough Saturday-night battle,” said RPI head coach Seth Appert. “We knew it was going to be a challenge to score: They had three guys back most of the night, they weren’t going to give up a lot of odd-man rushes. We figured it would be a tough, hard-fought, low-scoring hockey game, and it was.”
The game ensued with the teams sparring as equals, but the quality of the bout looked decidedly more bantamweight than heavy. Despite two power plays apiece, the shot totals were a paltry 3-3 in the game’s 16th minute; the first horn sounded with the shots 6-5 in favor of Harvard.
“I think both teams played physical, but I didn’t feel either team had an advantage either way,” said Donato of the 20-minute stalemate.
It was the Engineers who came out swinging in the second frame, but their first haymaker missed the mark as junior Josh Rabbani’s goal was waved off as a clear case of high-sticking. Another big blow had Crimson ears ringing when Chase Polacek dented Richter’s right post from 20 feet out on RPI’s third power play of the evening. Harvard withstood the shock, though they took another ear-splitting crack toward the end of the period as sophomore Nick Bailen nailed the iron on the Engineers’ fourth power play.
“We created enough. We had two goals disallowed, we hit four or five posts … on the road in a tough game, we created a good amount of offense. We played pretty hard, and usually when you play hard you usually get a little bit more puck-luck,” lamented Appert.
Through 40 minutes, Harvard maintained a 12-11 edge in shots but it was all zeros on the scoresheet.
Harvard took the reins to start the third, taking six of the period’s first seven shots, but York stood his ground in the RPI crease. Each team took a penalty as the game entered its final minutes, but Harvard junior Daniel Moriarty was the one left shaking his head with 35 seconds to play as his golden backhand bid was kicked away by York’s left boot.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Killorn was there to save the home side’s weekend with under 10 seconds to play, picking up a pass from senior Michael Biega and hustling past defenders down the right-wing slot. Forcing the goalie to respect his cross-crease option in sophomore trailer Danny Biega, Killorn instead elected to wrist it far-side on York. The puck barely snuck under York’s right armpit as he tried to squeeze it shut, and the rubber danced into the twine for the game’s only goal.
“We were on the power play, but one of their players got the puck, and [Harvard sophomore] Conor Morrison made a great play to keep it in at the blue line,” described Killorn. “He just pushed it down to Mike Biega, who luckily heard me and put it through one of their players’ sticks. I got it in a two-on-one, and I had a decision to pass it over to Danny Biega or take a shot, and I took the shot, and got lucky.
“I didn’t pass to Danny because he stole a goal from me the night before,” Killorn joked. “But no, it’s actually something I’ve been working on in two-on-ones: I was looking at Danny to try to make the goalie think I was going to pass it, and at the last second just try to get a shot off as quick as possible. I had a [targeted] area, not a specific spot, but it ended up working out pretty well.”
Harvard (1-1-0 overall, 1-1-0 in the ECAC) takes to the road for the first time to battle Clarkson and St. Lawrence next weekend, while Rensselaer (4-2-3, 1-1-0) will regroup against travel partner and cross-town rival Union in a home-and-home series.