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On one of the coldest nights on record in the Boston area, the No. 8 Harvard men’s ice hockey team suited up to try to tame the No. 2 Quinnipiac Bobcats at Bright-Landry Hockey Center. Though the score may not have reflected the true competitiveness of the matchup between two of the nation’s top teams, the Bobcats came out on top, shutting out the Crimson 3-0.
Through the record low temperatures, many fans braved the cold, making for another sold-out game with a lively student section. One notable attendee was nine year-old Parker Watson, who signed a contract with the team earlier this week through Harvard Athletics’ partnership with Team IMPACT. Team IMPACT is a non-profit organization that pairs children suffering from serious illnesses and disabilities with collegiate sports teams. Within Harvard Athletics, 15 children have been signed to 12 different teams, including men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse.
“It allows us to put in perspective how lucky we are and [how great it is] to have someone that shows up with a big smile…having kids myself, it's great to see our kids connect with Parker. I feel like college kids can connect with younger kids in a way that's really special,” head coach Ted Donato said. “Our guys really enjoy the opportunity to work with Parker.”
Heading into Friday night, Harvard knew it was going to be difficult to curb the Bobcats. Quinnipiac has spent the majority of the season in the top five of the national rankings, and their starting goaltender Yaniv Perets currently boasts a .833 winning percentage in 27 games, which ranks first in the country, as well as a .922 save percentage, which ranks among the nation’s elite as well.
“Perets is obviously really a goalie. His numbers speak for themselves,” said senior defenseman and captain Henry Thrun. “They're obviously a very good defensive team as well. I think that helps [Perets] out a lot but I don't think we changed our game much for it.”
From the puck drop, it became clear that the game would be a battle of the neutral zone. Offensive pushes came in bursts, but neither team had consistent time in their opponent’s zone. The Crimson had their first offensive spurt around five minutes into the first, putting up eight shot attempts within 90 seconds. However, only two of the shots were on goal, with three of the other six blocked by Bobcat skaters.
“I thought maybe we could have done a little better job to get some pucks through from the point than they did,” Donato said. “There was one shift early in the game, we kind of had a good offensive zone shift going and they blocked four shots back to back in an even strength rally… I give [Quinnipiac] a lot of credit for that.”
Quinnipiac responded to the Crimson’s early push, creating offensive opportunities right away. Halfway through the period, in the midst of a long Bobcat possession in the Harvard zone, senior goaltender Mitchell Gibson was faced with two shots at point blank range, but denied both. After Gibson covered the puck post save, senior forward and captain Baker Shore won the resulting face-off and cleared the puck from the Crimson defensive zone. The remainder of the period remained tightly contested, and after a failed Harvard power play and a holding penalty called on Shore with just under 15 seconds remaining, the teams ended the first period in a scoreless tie.
Coming into the second period with nearly two minutes of power play time remaining, Quinnipiac came out fast. After winning the opening faceoff, the Bobcats were able to maintain possession in the Crimson zone. Working the puck around quickly, Quinnipiac’s offense was a step ahead of Harvard’s defense. The Bobcats finally got a shot on net, and while Gibson initially rejected Quinnipiac captain Zach Metsa’s rocket, he failed to corral the rebound, and forward Skyler Brind’Amour put the puck in the open net to give the Bobcats a 1-0 advantage.
Harvard was granted its second power play of the night nine minutes into the period, when Bobcats forward T.J. Friedmann was called for holding, as he prevented junior forward Sean Farrell from capitalizing on an open goal. This prompted Donato to start with the second power play unit. During its two minute advantage, the Crimson did not put up a single shot. It was completely neutralized, as Quinnipiac’s aggressive penalty kill prevented the unit from being able to set up the point.
The team would get another chance at the power play just a couple minutes later with Friedmann in the box again, this time for tripping. The first power play unit started this time, and while Harvard put up multiple shots on goal in the two minute stretch, it was again unable to execute.
“We're gonna have to continue to adapt with it. Teams, obviously at this point of the year, do a lot of pre-scouting and sort of know our go-to plays,” explained Thrun regarding the power play’s struggles. “It's something that we're going to have to continue to evolve. We're going to want to make a playoff run and win some key games down the stretch here – special teams need to be huge for us.”
The Crimson entered the third down one goal and put up its best effort to even the score, outshooting Quinnipiac 11-6. However, the Bobcats’ defense and Perets snuffed out any comeback attempt. After a failed power play, Quinnipiac maintained possession and added another to its tally after a Christopher Fillion shot ricocheted off of first-year forward Casey Severo’s skate, past Gibson and into the goal.
In the remaining 10 minutes, Harvard was unable to come back from the 2-0 Bobcat lead. Donato pulled Gibson with just under three minutes remaining, giving the Crimson the extra sixth attacker. Harvard was barely able to put up five shots during this time, Friedmann added an empty-netter with only four seconds left to play.
“I thought Quinnipiac made it tough through the neutral zone – it was kind of back and forth where both teams would get some opportunities,” said Donato of the game as a whole. “They're an excellent team. They don't beat themselves. They make you work forever...it’s a learning experience for us and we have to get better.”
The Crimson was without its typical Saturday game, as its schedule allowed for extra rest ahead of the first round of the Beanpot on Monday. The annual four-team tournament will be played for the 70th time this year, bringing all the powerhouses of Boston’s collegiate hockey scene to the same bracket.
Harvard will take on Boston College in the first game at 5:00 pm at T.D. Garden, the home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics. The second game of the night will follow at 8:00 pm, as No. 3 Boston University will face Northeastern University. The victors will compete in the finals the following Monday at 7:30, while the consolation game is at 4:30 pm.
The competition is a pre-playoffs highlight of every Harvard hockey season, fostering excitement from players, coaches, and fans alike.
“It's a bit bittersweet,” said Thrun, a Southborough, Mass. native and who will play in his last Beanpot with the team. “It's such a unique experience, but at the end of the day, I’ve yet to play in that championship Monday and I’ve yet to lift the trophy…we're focused on BC first, but obviously we have bigger goals in mind as well.”
Harvard hasn’t taken home the trophy since 2017, and tied for third with Boston College last year.
“We win together and we lose together and this game probably showed us that we can be a little harder on pucks and we'll need to raise our compete level,” Donato said. “We’ve got a real good challenge for us on Monday night against a BC team that's playing some good hockey. We need to take a deep breath and move on from tonight's game and get ready for Boston College.”
– Staff writer Bridget T. Sands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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