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No. 17 Men's Hockey Defeats No. 20 Union with Red-Hot Powerplay

{image id=1335501 caption=true align=center size=full}In Monday’s discouraging semifinal loss in the Beanpot Tournament, the Harvard men’s hockey team came up empty on crucial powerplay opportunities and failed to claw back against eventual victor Boston College. The Crimson’s man-up unit, ranked atop the nation, went a frustrating 0-for-4 as Harvard’s Beanpot hopes were squelched.

Friday, the No. 17 Crimson (12-7-3, 9-5-2 ECAC) returned to conference action against No. 20 Union (13-9-5, 6-8-1) and, ironically, rode its powerplay to victory. Harvard potted four goals with the extra-man en route to a 5-3 triumph at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center.

“Obviously, it was a tough one Monday,” junior defenseman Adam Fox said. “But we still have a season that we have to focus on. We have to win some games to put ourselves in good position not only in the league but in the Pairwise [rankings]…. So it was definitely a big win for us coming off that loss.”

The ECAC foes entered the third period tied at three apiece. Six minutes into the final frame, the Crimson powerplay took the ice for the fourth time, having struck on each of its prior three opportunities.

After faking a shot from his right-circle office, sophomore defenseman Reilly Walsh skated across the slot before threading a cross-ice pass to a waiting Casey Dornbach, who buried the open-goal chance.

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The freshman’s fifth tally of the year proved to be the game-winner, as senior net-minder Michael Lackey (3 GA, .880 SV%) and the Harvard defense held strong for the final 14 minutes. An empty-net finisher from junior forward Frédéric Grégoire sealed the victory — the Crimson’s fifth over a ranked opponent in 2018-2019.

{image id=1335502 caption=true align=right size=medium}“[Fox] passed it up top, and I kind of made a fake and was looking to shoot,” Walsh said. “[I] just kept moving wide, and I heard [Dornbach] call for it, and I knew that that seam was going to be open…. It was a good shot by him, and [there was] a lot of space created by the other guys out there as well.”

With the powerplay firing on all cylinders, several of Harvard’s key offensive pieces put forth stellar performances. Most notably, Fox pocketed four assists, while fellow powerplay point man, Walsh, also contributed two helpers. Dornbach, in his own right, finished with a goal and a pair of apples.

In short, the Crimson’s powerplay won it the game on Friday night. The bout’s first period was no exception to this reality. After converting on its first man-up chance earlier in the frame, Harvard received another opportunity that would take it through the period horn. Assistant coach Rob Rassey’s second 5-on-4 unit, however, had other plans.

From down on the ice, sophomore forward Jack Badini batted the puck out of midair, pocketing a gritty goal with just seven seconds remaining in the stanza and sending his team into the locker room after 20 minutes with the one-score lead.

“Like we’ve said all year, our mindset is getting the puck to the net and getting those second-chance opportunities,” Fox said. “It’s not going to work every night — that’s just hockey — but it’s good when your powerplay can come through for you.”

The Crimson’s advantage held for 10 minutes in the second frame before Union forward Ryan Walker blasted a wrist shot past Lackey to even the ledger. The senior’s snipe was a direct result of linemate Cole Maier’s clean offensive-zone faceoff win.

{image id=1335504 caption=true align=left size=medium}Neither team was finished scoring in the middle period. With four minutes to go, the Dutchmen claimed their first lead of the night courtesy of senior defenseman Greg Campbell. Two minutes later, Harvard freshman Jack Drury snuck a puck past sophomore backstop Darion Hanson (4 GA, .867 SV%) for yet another Crimson powerplay goal.

Fox achieved his 10th multi-point performance of the season with the primary assist on Drury’s nifty move down low. The Hobey Baker candidate now ranks second in assists per game (1.09) and third in points per game (1.41) nationwide. He also paces college hockey in powerplay points per game (0.82).

“There’s a lot of talented players out there,” coach Donato said. “Any powerplay that has 18 [Fox] on it is going to be pretty good to start. Adam Fox is just great. Everybody is sharing the puck, and I think you can probably see that by the goal scorers. We didn’t just score on the same play.”

In need of a bounce-back performance after its Beanpot semifinal loss, the Crimson broke open the scoring at the midway point of the first period. On the team’s first powerplay of the evening, Fox fired a wrist shot through traffic that was redirected by co-captain Lewis Zerter-Gossage to give his team the 1-0 lead.

With the tally, the hosts put Monday’s defeat behind them and returned to their usual potency on the man advantage — one which would reappear throughout the contest. After a robust 4-for-4 outing, Harvard’s powerplay still leads the nation with its 36 percent clip.

{image id=1335503 caption=true align=right size=medium}“Sometimes when you lose an emotional game like the Beanpot, you’re down and out,” coach Donato said. “Having a team that you know is very good coming in is necessary to get the focus you need."

Union would go on to tie the game six minutes later, after a stint of 4-on-4 hockey opened up space on the ice for junior winger Anthony Rinaldi to sneak a wrap-around past the far-side pad of Lackey. Co-captain Michael Floodstrand was involved in the play leading to the 4-on-4: a skirmish in front of the Dutchmen net forced the officials to send both players off.

The Crimson now shifts its focus back to the Beanpot. On Monday, it will duel Boston University for third place in the annual Boston classic. And despite the minimal appeal of a consolation game in a mostly empty National Hockey League arena, Harvard knows that each game counts toward its case for a top spot in the Pairwise rankings — the key to an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“Last year was a little bit of a different case because at that point we kind of knew we had no shot at making an at-large bid [to the NCAA Tournament],” Walsh said. “We’ve still got plenty of games left, and we’re definitely making a run at a top-13, even top-10, Pairwise [ranking]. Every game is huge for us. Obviously, no ECAC points on Monday, but we need the win for Pairwise.”

—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at spencer.morris@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMorrisTHC

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