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On the opening weekend of a season marked by high expectations internally and externally, the No. 14 Harvard men’s ice hockey team overcame deficits, penalties, and occasional inconsistency to secure a 2-0 start to the season with come-from-behind wins over the Dartmouth Big Green and the Princeton Tigers at Bright-Landry Hockey Center.

“Last year, I think we had 13 or 14 players playing college hockey for the first time,” head coach Ted Donato said. “So now we’re a veteran group of one year with a lot of guys and some new guys, but I think we’re still trying to find what our identity is going to be as a group.”

Harvard 5, Dartmouth 2

In a first period that was chippy and physical right from the opening faceoff, Harvard did not play like a team with championship aspirations, struggling against Dartmouth’s aggressive play. Less than a minute into the game, a strong Big Green forecheck pinned the Crimson in the defensive zone and allowed center Steven Townley to steal the puck from the Harvard defense. Townley quickly fed the puck from below the goal line into the high slot, where forward Matt Hubbarde collected it and fired it past senior goaltender Mitchell Gibson to give Dartmouth a 1-0 lead only 59 seconds in.

Dartmouth’s aggressive play reared its head again on their second goal of the game only minutes later. After forcing a turnover at their defensive blue line, the Big Green’s fourth line and their forecheck went to work below the goal line again. This time, Dartmouth forward Tyler Campbell was able to force a turnover and find linemate Ryan Sorkin for a point blank shot from Gibson’s left. Gibson made the save, but the rebound popped in the air and found center Trym Lokkeberg, who batted the puck out of the air and into the net to put the Big Green up 2-0. Dartmouth’s aggressive play carried over to their defense as well, as they regularly broke up the Harvard offensive attack in the neutral zone or at their defensive blue line, stymying the Crimson offense at even strength and preventing goaltender Cooper Black from facing any serious tests.

“I think on our side there’s two or three mistakes,” Donato said. “So I think with the goals they got a shot of adrenaline, they had some momentum. And I’d love to say there were a ton of tactical things that were happening…but really I just thought they outworked us and out competed us.”

Despite the poor start to the game, Harvard’s offense ignited in a second period in which they dominated play, outshooting Dartmouth 20-8. After struggling to move the puck effectively and maintain possession in the first period, the Crimson generated several scoring opportunities early in the second frame, including a prime chance for first-year forward Joe Miller, who was left alone in the slot but saw his shot denied by a spectacular save by Black. Harvard’s offense finally broke through just shy of eight minutes into the period, as a hard shot from senior defenseman and captain Henry Thrun was blocked in front and landed right on the stick of junior forward Alex Laferriere, who cleaned up the rebound to cut the Crimson deficit to 2-1.

Just over two minutes later, it appeared that Dartmouth would have a prime chance to stem the Crimson momentum when senior forward Austin Wong was handed a five minute major penalty and game misconduct for making contact with the head of a Big Green player. However, Harvard’s penalty kill rose to the occasion, preventing Dartmouth from getting set up in the offensive zone. Two minutes into the penalty kill the Crimson was able to turn its strong defense into offense, as Laferriere and sophomore defenseman Jack Bar created a shorthanded odd man rush opportunity, which Bar was able to convert to tie the game at 2-2 and tally his first collegiate goal. Harvard continued to create scoring chances in the second period, including an odd-man rush opportunity between first-year forwards Marek Hejduk and Philip Tresca, but Black continued his strong play to maintain a 2-2 tie going into the second intermission.

“I think that’s expected whenever we play Dartmouth,” Thrun said regarding the game’s physical edge. “We have a little bit of a rivalry with them as well and they’re a pretty physical team, and any team you see in our league is obviously gonna show up and play pretty gritty.”

The third period continued the physical play of the game, as Tresca was upended by a thunderous open ice hit and both teams delivered punishing checks along the boards. Harvard’s offense maintained its surge, however, and less than four minutes into the period, Laferriere gave the Crimson a 3-2 lead on a 2-on-1 opportunity with a wrist shot that just trickled through Black. Harvard continued its offensive onslaught on two third period power plays, and while they were unable to convert on their first opportunity, they expanded their lead to 4-2 on the second man advantage, as Laferriere, looking for the hat trick, was denied by Black off of a shot from the slot, but sophomore forward Matthew Coronato was able to knock home the rebound.

The Crimson was not seriously threatened on defense for the rest of the game, as the defense corps moved the puck well to prevent the Big Green from establishing their aggressive forecheck. Senior forward and captain Baker Shore took a hooking penalty with less than five minutes to play, but an unbelievable glove save from Gibson, sliding from his right to his left, robbed Hubbarde of a sure goal, and sophomore forward Zakary Karpa tallied an empty net goal to secure the 5-2 victory.

“At the end of the day, I thought the response from our group was pretty good,” Donato said. “You’d like to initiate more than have a response, but I think we’ll learn from it and move on.”

Harvard 4, Princeton 2

After struggling to begin the season opener against Dartmouth, Harvard engineered a much stronger first period on Saturday, with the Crimson creating a number of early scoring chances. Bar hit the post on a long shot from the point and Thrun had a quality chance from the slot, but he was denied by Princeton goaltender Aidan Porter. After Tigers defenseman Noah de la Durantaye was sent off for hooking with just under eight minutes remaining, Karpa opened the scoring for Harvard on the power play by redirecting a hard shot-pass from sophomore defenseman Ian Moore into the net for the 1-0 lead. The Crimson had a golden opportunity to extend their lead after Princeton forward and captain Liam Gorman was given a five minute major penalty for boarding, but Porter kept Harvard at bay, denying prime opportunities for Thrun and Coronato to keep the Princeton deficit at one goal at the conclusion of the first period.

“Coach has been harping on us to start the games better,” Laferriere said. “We had two exhibition games which our starts were kind of lackluster, so I think we’re focused on that.”

The Tigers markedly improved their play in the second frame, matching Harvard in shots on goal at nine. The Crimson power play was strong on an early man advantage but was unable to pad the lead, as a spectacular passing play from Karpa to a cutting Moore was rejected by an unbelievable effort from Porter. Soon after the early power play expired, Princeton forward Brendan Gorman tallied his first career collegiate goal after he skated into the offensive zone with speed and beat junior goaltender Derek Mullahy cleanly with a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles. Both goalies were strong in the rest of the second period as the teams accelerated the pace of play, with both Porter and Mullahy denying a flurry of chances, and the teams entered the second intermission knotted at one goal apiece.

Shortly after the third period began, the Crimson was sent to the penalty kill when senior forward Austin Wong was whistled for tripping. The Tigers wasted no time cashing in on the power play, as forward Adam Robbins sent a perfect cross ice pass to forward Jack Cronin, whose high wrist shot beat Mullahy, giving Princeton a 2-1 lead less than two minutes into the third period. However, Harvard answered with a power play goal only minutes later, as first year forward Joe Miller tapped a rebound through Porter to tie the game at 2-2. The power play helped to jumpstart the Crimson offense at even strength, and just over three minutes after Miller’s strike, Coronato gave the Crimson a 3-2 lead when he finished off a pass from junior forward Sean Farrell, who was stationed below the goal line. The Tigers had chances to tally an equalizer, especially on a power play halfway through the period, but they failed to convert their opportunities, and Coronato iced the game with just over a minute remaining when he made a nifty move on Porter to finish off a partial breakaway, securing a 4-2 win for Harvard.

“You’re saying in the locker room, how you never know if a goalie’s gonna stand on their head one night or we’ll be in the box for the entire game another night,” Laferriere said. “So just being able to overcome that sort of stuff is what makes championship teams and I think that’s what we’re focused on.”

The Crimson is back in action next weekend at Bright-Landry Hockey Center, taking on the Brown Bears on Friday evening before clashing with the Yale Bulldogs on Saturday night.

-Staff writer Aaron B. Shuchman can be reached at aaron.shuchman@thecrimson.com

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