WORCESTER, Mass. — Less than five miles separate the No. 10/9 Harvard men’s hockey team’s home at the Bright-Landry Center from its crosstown rival’s rink in Chestnut Hill. But in the biggest game of the season, the distance between the two teams seemed much larger.
After two first-period goals from No. 6/5 Boston College—including one in the waning minutes of the frame—the Crimson was unable to stage a comeback to retake control of the game. Despite a mid-second-period goal from sophomore Seb Lloyd, the Eagles held on by a score of 4-1 to knock the Crimson out of the NCAA tournament and officially end Harvard’s season.
“They’re a very well-coached team with some great players,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ‘91 said. “They made the plays they needed to to win the game.”
The loss marks the second straight year in which the Crimson (19-11-4, 12-6-4 ECAC) has bowed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In both contests, Harvard found itself down 2-0 after the first 20 minutes had elapsed, and down 4-1 when the final buzzer sounded.
A TALE OF TWO SCRUMS
With the game scoreless just under eight minutes into the contest, a loose puck and subsequent scrum in front of the net would open the scoring for the Eagles (27-7-5, 15-2-5 Hockey East) and dictate that the Crimson would have to come from behind to extend its season.
With sophomore goaltender Merrick Madsen slipping into the back of his net, sophomore Alex Tuch was able to poke the puck across the goal line to get BC on the scoreboard. The referees would go under the hood twice before officially putting Tuch’s goal on the scoresheet.
“The good thing about the NCAA is that all plays [like that] go to review,” Donato said. “It wasn’t like they didn’t get a chance to look at it.... It’s our job to respond.”
Later that period, with the score still 1-0, a loose puck floated in front of BC’s junior goaltender, Thatcher Demko. But Crimson players charging towards the net were unable to nudge the puck in before Demko managed to get on top of it and freeze it. The equalizing goal would go unrealized, a missed opportunity made more costly after Boston College got on the man advantage shortly thereafter and extended its lead with 1:02 left in the first period.
A TOUGH TIME WITH TOUGH TEAMS
Entering the contest, Harvard was 0-6-1 against teams that as of Friday were above the Crimson in the PairWise rankings. Harvard couldn’t erase the goose-egg from the first column in its tilt with the Eagles, who, as of Saturday morning, rank eight spots ahead of the Crimson.
In four of the team’s previous six losses against higher-ranked opponents, the squad only was bested by a single goal. In one of these games—its January matchup with No. 12/11 Boston University, currently eighth in the PairWise—Harvard even had a two-goal lead with five minutes remaining, only to see its lead turn into a one-goal deficit when the clock hit triple zeros.
In this particular game, the puzzle Harvard couldn’t solve was Demko. The Hobey Baker finalist stopped all but one of the 33 shots he faced on the night, improving upon his .936 save percentage.
“He’s elevated the team a lot this year,” Boston College coach Jerry York said. “When you get to NCAAs, you’re expecting him to play well. He’s become a real leader for us, and I thought he made some outstanding saves tonight.”
While the Crimson only lost four of the 26 games it played against weaker opponents per the PairWise, its inability to rise to the occasion in games against tougher opponents was the undoing of the Crimson not only in the NCAA tournament, but in the Beanpot and the ECAC tournament.
THE UNDOING OF THE DEFENSE
After the Harvard defense helped propel the squad to the title game in the ECAC Tournament, the unit struggled in slowing down the Eagles’ attack on Friday night, allowing several odd-man rushes on the night. While the Crimson actually outshot BC, the Eagles generated more scoring chances, many of which Madsen stopped to prevent the game from getting out of hand quickly.
Part of the reason for the letdown was that the blue line entered the game banged up. Senior Desmond Bergin did not skate in the days leading up to the game, while sophomore Wiley Sherman did not dress for the Crimson due to an upper body injury. Freshman Viktor Dombrovskiy, fellow classmate Adam Baughman, and sophomore Thomas Aiken—a trio that made up half of the team’s defensive lineup—only had 30 games under their belts before Friday’s contest.
“[Boston College] scored the power play goal when we had a few opportunities earlier in the power play to clear it,” Donato said. “When it’s all said and done, some great players made some great plays for them.”
—Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.