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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Trophy season will continue in Cambridge.
After winning the Beanpot, sharing ECAC Hockey’s regular season title and winning the league’s playoff tournament, Harvard will travel to Chicago in two weeks looking to win the biggest prize of them all: a national title.
The Crimson survived a frantic four-minute span midway through the second period and a harrowing finish to beat Air Force 3-2 in the NCAA East Regional final Saturday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The win sends Harvard to its first Frozen Four since 1994. The program’s only national title came in 1989, when current coach Ted Donato was a member of the team. The Crimson will face West Regional champion Minnesota Duluth on Thursday, April 6 at the United Center in the national semifinals.
This year is the fifth time in sixth seasons that ECAC Hockey has sent at least one team to the Frozen Four. Before that, the league hadn’t had a participant in the national championship round since Cornell made it in 2003.
Merrick Madsen made 25 saves for Harvard, which enters the Frozen Four on an 18-game unbeaten streak. Senior Tyler Moy scored his third goal of the weekend, while classmate Alexander Kerfoot had two assists. The Frozen Four appearance comes after the Crimson (28-5-2) had lost their first NCAA games in each of the last two seasons.
“I think our team has a little bit more balance,” Donato said of the Crimson advancing. “We have a number of guys that are capable of stepping up. You can’t deny the fact that our goaltender was exceptional all weekend. It’s hard to advance without great goaltending.”
Leading 1-0 midway through the second, the Crimson doubled their lead when Ryan Donato took a short pass from John Marino near the Air Force blue line and put together a string of dazzling moves to evade a Falcons defender and beat goalie Shane Starrett (24 saves) at 7:57.
Less than two minutes later, Moy’s power-play snap shot from the left circle made it 3-0 Harvard. It was his 100th career point.
Air Force (27-10-5) watched Western Michigan quickly turn a three-goal Falcons lead into a one-goal game in the regional semifinals Friday. This time, it was the Air Force that rallied, thanks to a delayed penalty against the Crimson’s Michael Floodstrand.
Brady Tomlak scored with Starrett pulled in favor of the extra skater to make it 3-1 at 11:23. Jordan Himley followed up on the ensuing power play to make it 3-2 15 seconds later.
“We’ve played from behind before and we knew we were never out of it,” Air Force junior Dylan Abood said.
The push by the Falcons could have spelled trouble for Harvard, but the Crimson have done a good job all year responding to pushbacks by opponents.
“That prepared us for those two bounces we got,” Harvard captain Devin Tringale said of the Falcons’ goals. “It’s been something we’ve done really well all year, and I think we did it well again tonight.”
Harvard scored first when Kerfoot found a trailing Victor Dombrovskiy off the rush. The Crimson defenseman snuck a shot through a crowd of players and past Starrett to put Harvard up 1-0 at 9:54 in the opening period. But the Falcons held tough, keeping pace with the Crimson for much of the game.
“They’re a team that might not have as many NHL draft picks or as many marquee names but they certainly have an identity as a team and they’re tough to play against,” Ted Donato said. “They made it difficult for us all night. We did not have the amount of puck possession that we would have liked.”
Air Force had some chances in the final period but couldn’t find the equalizer. Madsen and the Crimson held on during a frantic final minute when the Falcons pulled Starrett for the extra attacker. Sean Malone pushed a rebound away from an Air Force skater, and then Madsen made several point-blank saves to seal the win.
“Nobody left early. That’s a great team, that Harvard team, and I think that people around the country know that the guys in blue are a pretty good hockey team as well,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “We took their best punch in the second period and it’s 3-0 against a team like that and it’s not looking too good. But we’ve persevered all year long and more often than not we’ve come from behind in games like that.”