CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Saturday’s game between Harvard and Clarkson marked an opportunity for both schools to secure a valuable bye in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. To begin the weekend, Clarkson sat in the pole position, one point ahead of Harvard and two clear of Quinnipiac.
But a cluster of teams near the middle of the standings meant that both needed three-point weekends to secure the next one off. Instead, Harvard took full control of its fate and won both games at the Bright Hockey Center. With a 3-2 win over Clarkson Saturday night, and a 4-1 win over St. Lawrence on Friday, Harvard passed Colgate and earned a third-place finish in the ECAC regular season.
Meanwhile Clarkson will host RPI in the first round of the conference playoffs, after losing both games this weekend.
What I Saw
The quality of the game-winning goal for Harvard reflected the magnitude of the action. Junior Tommy O’Regan skated through the zone and deked through a pair of Clarkson defensemen. He then sent a perfect pass through the slot to David Valek (two goals), who was streaking toward the net. The junior easily slipped the puck past Clarkson goalie Paul Karpowich.
The spectacular goal capped a dominate third period for the Crimson. The team outshot Clarkson, 16-10, in the frame and largely controlled play. The Golden Knights failed to threaten the Harvard net until the team pulled its goalie in favor of an extra attacker for the final two minutes.
Though it made for several minutes of nerve-racking play — especially considering the number of ties Harvard has experienced this season — the team held its ground.
Those events game after the Crimson earned an early goal in the third, as Valek placed a wrist-shot perfectly above the right blocker of Karpowich. The puck hit the top of the net and rapidly bounced out of the goal. An officials’ review cleared the confusion among the players and erased a one-goal deficit for the Crimson.
Earlier, the Golden Knights built a 2-1 lead in the second as Clarkson took advantage of two quick penalties and capitalized on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Just as quickly, the referees evened-out the game, whistling Clarkson for three-consecutive penalties — one of which allowed Harvard to score a power-play goal.
What I Thought
Though perhaps the size of the crowd didn’t reflect the magnitude of the game for both programs, the level of intensity on the ice certainly did. Both teams played physical, hard-fought hockey from the first period. With players eagerly blocking shots and fighting hard for loose pucks, the players’ effort demonstrated the true implications of the game.
Harvard enjoyed a truly dominate night from the face-off circle. Through the first two periods, the Crimson held a 27-8 advantage. Though Clarkson held its opponents even for the rest of the game on face-offs, it made for a challenging few periods for the Golden Knights. Winning nearly twice as many face-offs as an opponent provides a significant advantage for a hockey team.
Harvard seemingly always began each restart with possession. It allowed the team to play an effective puck-control style game against the Golden Knights. The face-off domination also benefited Harvard’s fore-check and helped the team hold its defensive form.
Only a consistent march to the penalty box prevented the Crimson from taking full control of the game early.
Though they didn’t earn any points during the weekend and tumbled down the standings to seventh place, Clarkson played far from horribly in both games. The Golden Knights lost to Dartmouth in a 6-4 shootout on Friday. Clarkson remains a talented hockey team and will pose a significant challenge to RPI in the playoffs
What They Said
“It really makes it hard on your hockey team because you don’t have any pucks,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said, regarding Harvard’s face-off domination. “It’s a puck possession game, so it’s critically important. But we felt we played well the past two nights even though we didn’t get the results.”
“The penalties early in the game really stopped us from being able to create any type of momentum,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “Once we got on the board, I thought we played much better. All game I thought our effort was there, but we just didn’t help ourselves with the penalties.”
“On our third goal, Tommy O’Regan had a huge blocked shot and the puck bounced out into the neutral zone,” Valek said. “[O'Regan] just dangled through the defense and passed it to me, and I scored on an empty net.”
What Else You Should Know
The ECAC playoff picture is now firmly determined. Union, Cornell, Harvard, and Colgate all earned first-round byes and will play two weeks from now in Atlantic City. Meanwhile, the weekend’s results create the following match-ups in the first round of the playoffs: Brown at Qunnipiac, Princeton at Yale, RPI at Clarkson, Dartmouth at St. Lawrence, all playing for the right to continue their quest for the ECAC tournament championship.