The Harvard Crimson asserted themselves as the team to beat in the ECAC Saturday with a 6-3 win over the Yale Bulldogs in front of a sellout crowd of 3,486 at Ingalls Rink. Brendan Bernakevitch had two goals, including the game winner, and Dov Grumet-Morris made 30 saves to lead the Crimson to victory.
In a game that was closer than the score would indicate — the Crimson had an empty-net goal and were actually outshot by Yale 33-32 — Harvard proved too skilled offensively for an undermanned Eli blue-line corps to keep off the scoreboard.
Harvard led 2-0 after the first period, then saw the Bulldogs tie the game midway through the second, but bounced back to put two more scores on the board before second intermission. Yale drew within 4-3 early in the third, but the Crimson were able to hang on and pull away.
“This game featured two very good teams playing against each other,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “I was very pleased with the poise we showed. Each time they came back, we responded.”
The Crimson, winners of four straight, dominated the first period by outshooting Yale 10-5 and lighting the lamp twice. Harvard notched its first tally just 90 seconds in when Dominic Moore sent in a rebound during a logjam in front of Yale netminder Peter Cohen (26 saves).
The visitors’ next score came with just 35 seconds left before the first intermission. Cohen saved Kenny Smith’s shot from the top of the circle, but could not control the rebound. Tom Cavanagh was positioned in the low slot and sent a slapshot past Cohen.
Yale outshot Harvard 16-11 in the second frame, but each squad found the net twice. The Elis brought the crowd to its feet just 42 seconds into the period. During a mix-up in front of the Harvard net in which all three forwards on the ice touched the puck, Christian Jensen got his stick on the puck and Ryan Steeves jammed it past Grumet-Morris for his seventh goal of the year.
Six minutes later, Yale tied the score after a faceoff in the Harvard end. Vin Hellemeyer’s slapshot from the side of the left circle reached the back of the net to get his fifth goal of the year. Chris Higgins won the faceoff and immediately sent the puck to Hellemeyer.
“I am very proud of the way we played in the second and third periods,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “To come back to tie the score was indicative of our toughness.”
But in just 35 seconds, the Crimson went on top for good on the first of two consecutive tallies by Bernakevitch, who entered the game with one goal on the season.
His backhander from 25-feet from the right circle beat Cohen high to give Harvard the 3-2 lead at 7:19 in the second. Almost four minutes later, despite being tangled up with Yale blueliner Stacey Bauman — whose effectiveness was limited by a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Brown game on Friday night — Bernakevitch netted a one-timer off a feed from Dennis Packard, who was behind the cage at 11:22.
Wax, who was credited with an assist on Steeves’ goal, cut the Harvard lead to one again when he corralled his own rebound just 1:20 into the third for Yale’s only power-play goal of the night.
“The feeling in the locker room was much different after period two than it was after period one,” Taylor said. “But we were still faced with a two-goal deficit, then we clawed back to within one again. Their fifth goal broke our back.”
It appeared that the fifth goal had come just two minutes after Wax’s tally, but it was waved off and Jeff Hristovski was given a crosschecking penalty. After conferring for several minutes and even consulting the goal judge, the officials decided to discount the goal, ruling that the penalty was assessed and the whistle blew before the puck crossed the goal line.
There was no denying Harvard five minutes later, though. Packard controlled a pass from Moore off the faceoff and sent a low wrister from the top of the right circle past Cohen’s glove. The shot went through traffic and seemed to catch Cohen off guard at 8:02.
Harvard survived a late penalty kill, and then New Haven native Brett Nowak scored on an empty net with 1:06 on the clock to secure the win and extend the Crimson’s lead atop the ECAC standings to four points over second-place Yale.
“We had plenty of glorious chances to score goals,” Taylor said. “There were several chances to score more goals than we ended up with, but things just did not go our way. They are a very strong team.”
Harvard hosts Boston College on Wednesday, while Yale has some much-needed time to heal nagging injuries. The Elis play next on Dec. 27 at Minnesota in the Dodge Holiday Classic.