Brighton, MA — The 2017-2018 has been trying for the Harvard University Crimson. Following their 2017 Frozen Four appearance, the Crimson were tabbed as preseason favorites, garnering the 3rd spot in the polls. Unfortunately, the first month of the year did not go as expected, with only one win and the team fell in the ranks.
Ryan Donato led a turnaround in December and early January to get Harvard back to contention in the ECAC. Then the Crimson lost a double-overtime heartbreaker to Boston University. After that game, Donato hopped on a plane to play for the United States Olympic Hockey team. Even without their star, the Crimson rallied to win games against Boston College and St. Lawrence.
On Saturday night, Harvard faced the biggest test without Donato, a duel with the Clarkson Golden Knights on Senior Night. These teams combined for a 6-6 tie four weeks ago. With their final regular season home game upon them, the Harvard Seniors looked to secure a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs. With help from the young players, they would do exactly that.
The game did not start as expected. Instead of starting Mike Richter Award candidate Jake Kielly in net, Clarkson decided to give freshman Nicholas Latinovich his second start of the season. The plan backfired. Less than five minutes elapsed before Harvard created havoc in front of Latinovich and Ty Pelton-Byce put a puck in to give Harvard a 1-0 lead.
The skating remained tight and quick, but Clarkson could not generate the needed offense on Harvard senior captain Merrick Madsen to tie the game, only getting seven shots in the frame. Instead, Harvard extended their lead when John Marino jumped into the play from his normal blue line spot and dumped a puck by Latinovich for a 2-0 lead 13:14 into the game.
Ultimately, the freshman goalie from Toronto saw only five shots and saved just three. He was replaced by Kielly after the Marino goal and the Richter contender stopped Harvard the rest of the frame.
Clarkson showed life early in the second period. As the first period wound down, Harvard took a penalty for too many men on the ice. Clarkson almost scored in the final seconds and carried their newly found momentum into the second period. Forty-seven seconds into the frame, Nico Sturm thread the puck through traffic to get Clarkson on the board. Harvard got their two-goal lead back shortly, though. Sheldon Rampal took a hooking penalty about four minutes after the goal.
Thirty-two seconds into the ensuing power play, Reilly Walsh lasered a puck by Kielly to take a 3-1 lead. Clarkson tilted the ice in their favor the rest of the second. They won the shot total 12-7. But Madsen proved again that he is a big game goalie, stopping 11 of 12 shots to keep his team in the lead. The Crimson defensive players also stopped plenty of Golden Knight rushes and blocked seven shots to lighten Madsen’s burden.
As they had in the second, Clarkson fired an early shot in the third period. Jake Horton took a tripping penalty 1:41 into the period. Nico Sturm responded by potting a goal from the high slot on the power play. Harvard turned the game into a slugfest with big hits galore. Clarkson won the shot battle only 9-7 and could not generate enough offense to work through the Crimson.
Instead, Harvard came off the canvas to KO the Golden Knights late in the third. Still clinging to a one-goal lead with twelve minutes left, Nic Pierog drove to the net and rammed into Madsen, knocking him on his back and driving the net off its moorings. For that play, he served a goalie interference minor. On the ensuing power play, Jack Badini lasered a shot from the high slot to extend the lead to 4-2. Clarkson Head Coach Casey Jones pulled Kielly for an extra attacker, but the Golden Knights could not land a blow late. Instead, Benjamin Solin sealed the 5-2 win with an empty-net tally.
The loss drops Clarkson to 19-9-5 overall and 11-5-4 in ECAC play. The Golden Knights have not won a game in February. Their record is 0-4-2 after being swept by Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend. Clarkson is hitting an offensive lull at the worst possible time. The Knights will close out their regular season next weekend at home when Princeton University and Quinnipiac University make their trip to the North Country. Puck drops at 7 pm on both Friday and Saturday at Cheel Arena.
Harvard was thrilled with their win, especially considering the year Clarkson has had. Associate Head Coach Paul Pearl was complimentary of his unit’s play and pace.
“That’s a team that’s physical and fast. You’ve gotta skate with them in order to be successful. We had to play a really good game against them; I’m really proud of what we did and how we did it against them.”
The win pushes Harvard to 13-10-4 overall and 11-6-3 in ECAC play. They secure a first-round bye and cannot finish lower than fourth place. The win was the last regular season game the current seniors will ever play at Harvard. With not much except momentum to play for, Harvard closes out their regular season on the road. They’ll travel to Brown and Yale to face their Ivy League rivals. Puck drops at 7 pm at both Meehan Auditorium in Providence, RI, and Ingalls Rink in New Haven, CT.