On Tuesday night, the Harvard Men’s Hockey team was taken down by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers 2-0. The game was originally meant to be played on January 7th but was rescheduled due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
“[A] good hard game, kind of game we’re going to see down the stretch,” said the Robert D. Ziff '88 Head Coach for Harvard Men's Ice Hockey Coach, Ted Donato ‘91.
“It was a tough one,” agreed junior captain and forward Nick Abruzzese. “We had some looks, but we gotta compete harder in the tough areas and get more looks in front of the net.”
The Crimson started fast and confident. Coach Donato made rapid line changes in the first half of the period, with shifts that lasted less than 30 seconds.
Though the Engineers were aggressive with board checks and maintained very physical defense, the Crimson maintained possession in their offensive zone the majority of the period. Even when the RPI crossed the blue line into Harvard’s territory, their time was short, as the defensemen kept composure and confidence, led by junior defenseman Henry Thrun and junior goalkeeper Mitchell Gibson.
The Crimson outscored the Engineers 15-4 in the first period, but were unable to find the back of the net. Credit here goes to RPI’s first-year goalkeeper Jack Watson, who was credited with 39 saves by the end of his fifth start and second shutout for the Engineers.
“He [Watson] played well,” Abruzzese commented on the opposition’s masked man. “We had looks, he made saves, I still think we could have made a tough run though.”
Coach Donato even pulled Gibson off the ice with about 10:30 left to give Harvard an extra offensive skater, a play called typically at the end of the third period in a close game. However, not even this unexpected move gave the Crimson an opportunity to get a clean shot off, and they started the second period still with no score.
Harvard struggled to find their rhythm during the second. They were given an immediate opportunity to capitalize, as they headed to the power play within two minutes of the period start. They failed to create an offensive consistency, subject to possession loss because of congestion by both teams about the goal– there was no clear path for the puck.
The Crimson were forced to the power kill with 15:08 left in the period as senior forward Wyllum DeVeaux was penalized for interference. RPI was unable to finish a goal during the technical time of power play, but just as senior forward Jack Donato subbed in as DeVeaux was released from the box, the Engineers’ sophomore forward John Beaton scored, the puck deflecting off his skate and into the net behind Gibson.
The remainder of the period consisted of a successful power kill by the Crimson, after sophomore forward Austin Wong was charged with tripping, as well as a failed power play, as RPI’s Beaton was sent to the box with hooking. The game play was aggressive, and possession was very back and forth; by the end of the period, Harvard still had the over on shots on goal, 27-15.
The third period brought play consistent with that of the second; possession time was short, aggression was high, and although they took an abundance of shots, the Crimson could not bury the puck. Tensions escalated between the two teams, forcing officials to separate players on multiple occasions right before they dropped gloves.
The Engineers continued their physical style of play. Just under six minutes into the period, RPI’s Lauri Setti sent first-year forward Alex Gaffney flying into the boards after a dirty check from behind. Setti was charged with game misconduct and a major penalty of boarding, giving Harvard a five minute power play.
The Crimson could not convert once again. The space in front of the goal was quite congested, limiting the quality of shot Harvard could take: all twelve attempts during their advantage failed, six saved by Watson.
The remainder of the period was more of the same: failure on longevity of possession prevented the set up of offensive plays and only allowed for obvious shots that could be easily saved by Watson or another of the Engineers’ defenders.
Coach Donato called for a timeout with 38 seconds remaining, and when he sent his boys back into play, opted to pull Gibson and add another offender. Although initially it seemed that the Crimson were capitalizing and taking better shots with their extra man, an interception led to an open net goal scored by RPI’s Jakub Lacka with nine seconds left, putting the last nail in the coffin.
“We need to execute on the power play,” Coach Donato expressed frustration regarding the shutout, “When you have a five minute major in the third, you don’t really need to look much further than that. You need to be able to find a goal there.”
“Gotta be better in the dirty areas,” Abruzzese followed the thoughts of his coach, “Defensively we were pretty good tonight. We’ve been pretty good the last couple games not giving up a lot of chances but we got to create more in front of their net and get more to the middle of the ice offensively.”
Harvard looks to change the pace of their two game losing streak with “two really good challenges for us this weekend, ” according to Coach Donato.
They are on the road this weekend to take on two more inter-conference teams. They play the Colgate Raiders 7pm on Friday night at Starr Arena in Hamilton, NY and the Cornell Big Red on Saturday at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, NY, also at 7pm.
-Staff writer Bridget T. Sands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.