Harvard has no shortage of offensive stars: three of the ECAC’s top four scorers (Tim Pettit, Dominic Moore, and Brett Nowak), a smooth playmaker (Tom Cavanagh), and one of the league’s top-scoring defenseman (Noah Welch).
So would you believe that Harvard took a 1-0 lead over Vermont in its ECAC quarterfinal series without a goal from any of those players? That the Crimson got three goals from a guy who had scored twice since Dec. 7?
“My first hat trick since pee-wees,” said Packard, with a smile after Harvard’s 4-2 win before 1,522 at Bright Hockey Center on Friday night. “It feels good.”
“Dennis is a very, very talented player,” said Harvard captain Dominic Moore, who assisted on two of Packard’s goals. “He’s had to battle through some injuries this season [a broken hand in December], so it’s great to see him playing with such confidence again.”
Packard’s biggest goal was his second, which came with only five seconds remaining in the second period to give Harvard a 3-0 lead.
The scoring sequence began on the other end when Jeff Miles, Vermont’s leading scorer, had the puck at the right faceoff dot. Harvard goalie Dov Grumet-Morris had come out of the crease to clear a rebound, leaving the net as open as Store 24 at midnight. Miles was forced toward the boards by a Crimson defender, but still had enough of an angle to put a shot on net.
Well, almost on net.
As the puck slid mere inches wide of the right post, everyone seemed to figure that was the end of action for the period, with less than 10 seconds remaining. However, Moore went to work, chasing down the rebound and sending it into the neutral zone where junior Kenny Turano chipped it to Packard, who came in alone on Vermont goaltender Shawn Conschafter.
“I was watching the play [on the other end], hoping that we had it,” said Conschafter. “But then I saw the kid coming from center ice. I looked up at the clock really quick, saw how much time was left, and said, ‘this is the game right here’.”
Packard picked his spot above Conschafter’s leg for the eventual game-winner.
“That broke our backs,” said Vermont coach Mike Gilligan. “Just killed us. Our left defenseman is our last man back, but he got caught looking at the play and their guy got behind him.”
“It’s great to see [Packard] step up like this,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. “I think a lot of guys in our locker room are really excited for him.”
Mazzoleni, though, was anything but excited at what followed in the third, save Packard’s goal with about 7 minutes remaining to ice it. Harvard took six penalties in the final period, including a bench minor for too many men on the ice, diving (Pettit), and hitting from behind (Moore).
The Catamounts took advantage, cutting Harvard’s lead to 3-2 on two power play goals: a slapper from the top of the right circle by Thomas Hajek and Jeff Corey’s rebound in front.
“I didn’t like the penalties; I didn’t like the penalties at all,” Mazzoleni said. “That helped them get back. You just can’t do that. You’re not going to go far if you keep doing that. You have to respect the margin of having your season go down the tubes versus advancing. That should be enough to
motivate you not to do that.”
The comeback mimicked both Crimson wins over Vermont this season. In November, the Cats rallied from a 4-0 deficit before falling, 4-2. Last month, Harvard took a 3-0 lead before needing two empty-net goals to win, 5-2.
“They let us back into it,” Gilligan said. “I’m happy with our group of guys because they didn’t just lie down. Hopefully what we did in the third will carry over to tomorrow.”
The series resumes Saturday at 7 p.m.
NOTEBOOK: Mazzoleni was forced to juggle his lines, double-shifting Turano and winger Rob Fried, after Tyler Kolarik (24 points this season) sustained a shoulder injury. He is not expected to play Saturday.