Before Friday night, Harvard had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1994. In their season of ending droughts, having already won a Beanpot and the ECAC regular season and tournament crown, the Crimson went into Providence looking to end another drought in their quest to win the program’s second National Championship.
All they had to do was beat the Providence College Friars down the road from their campus and cool off one of the hottest teams in college hockey. That’s no small task, but Harvard was up to the job, though it didn’t look it early.
Providence got off to a roaring start in the first period, getting eight shots on goal in the first five minutes and outshooting the Crimson 17-11 for the period. However, as was the story the whole night, Merrick Madsen stood tall. He faced every shot in the period and saved it. He gave his team a chance to get the first score, but they could not get it.
A combination of three bad turnovers in neutral ice or the defensive end and 11 first period saves by Hayden Hawkey kept Harvard off the board. The Friars gave Harvard a chance late in the period that would take some time to capitalize on.
With 34 seconds left in the 1st, Scott Conway was called for hooking. Harvard got some shots away late, but the game went to the first intermission scoreless.
When Harvard stepped back on the ice, they went into attack mode. They got into position, worked the puck around, and Tyler Moy got the puck by Hawkey to give Harvard the lead. The Crimson then got a fortunate bounce when Providence put a puck by Madsen, but the officials blew the whistle for offsides before the shot was taken. The call was borderline and Providence believed they had tied the game. The officials didn’t see it that way, and the game proceeded with a 1-0 Crimson lead.
As the 2nd period wound down, Harvard took the attack to the Friars one more time. Ryan Donato had a shot that rung off the crossbar. Adam Fox picked up the loose puck and threw it on the net. Hawkey didn’t stop it, and Harvard had a 2-0 lead going into the second intermission.
Providence played with desperation in the third period but did not have enough. Merrick Madsen completed his excellent night, making a career-high 41 saves in his first NCAA tournament win and the program’s first since 1994.
Providence had a chance to get on the board with Hawkey pulled from the net for an extra man. Instead, Tyler Moy created a turnover and scored an empty netter to give Harvard a 3-0 victory in the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the two teams.
Providence was complimentary of Harvard after the game, and Friar coach Jack Leaman took time to praise his seniors, the first group of Friars to play in the NCAA Tournament four years in a row and part of the 2015 National Championship squad.
Providence will finish with a 26-6-2 record after an incredible second half run got them from a game out of last place in the Hockey East to the NCAA Tournament. Seniors Kyle McKenzie, Anthony Florentino, Conor MacPhee, Brendan Leahy, and captain Josh Monk will depart from the program leaving it in heights never experienced at the Dominican school’s program.
Harvard coach Ted Donato was excited about the win but more relieved to get the first tournament win than elated. He maintained confidence in his unit for the Regional Final on Saturday. Harvard will face the winner of the Air Force vs Western Michigan game.