Still the Same
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ALBANY, N.Y. Two years ago, on the same ice, Harvard took a 4-1 lead into the third period against Maine in the NCAA Tournament's first round. Twenty minutes and four Black Bears goals later, Harvard instead had a crushing defeat.
So, trailing 4-1 to Maine heading into Saturday's third period, you could forgive Harvard for thinking turnabout was fair play.
But in order to turn this one around, the Crimson were faced with trying to turn around 40 minutes of domination by Maine, and faced with trying to mount an epic comeback against a team that was 100-0-6 in its last 106 games when taking a lead into the third period.
Make that 101-0-6.
The offense that allowed Harvard to storm through the ECAC playoffs scoring 24 goals in its last three games, disappeared, thanks in no small part to Maine. And everything else seemed to disappear too.
"We were outplayed pretty much for the entire game from top to bottom, and they deserve a lot of credit," said Harvard coach Ted Donato.
"We tried to mix up things up system-wise and try different plays. We just flat out got beat to loose pucks. We lost one-on-one battles; we never established our will on Maine. They, from the get go, won the small areas. They won down low, got pucks out, and didn't spend much time in their zone. And once they got a lead, they held all the cards."
For the fifth straight year, Harvard lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The feeling of accomplishment for an Ivy League school making it to the dance five straight times, is starting to ring a little hollow.
"We did some things we haven't done in a while — win the Ivy League championship, we beat Cornell on the road," Donato said. "But I'd be lying if I said this program, this team and these players don't want more. They want a greater amount of success in the national tournament. It's disappointing."
This year was supposed to be different. In Donato's second season as a head coach, he took a team with perhaps less overall talent than its predecessors and molded a team that figured out how to win tight games against good teams — an area in which Harvard teams fell short in the past.
But in the end, the only difference between this NCAA loss and the previous four was that, this one wasn't another crushing defeat. This one wasn't overtime, like two others were, and it wasn't a blown three-goal lead. No, this one was over early.
"Clearly they came out with a purpose, and we just weren't able to match that right from the beginning," said Harvard senior defenseman Peter Hafner. "It's disappointing because we didn't show what kind of team we were tonight."
Said Donato, "In our biggest game of the year, to come up with one of our poorer performances is frustrating, but it doesn't overshadow the fact that I think our guys had a great season."
One thing Harvard thought it could exploit was Maine goalie Ben Bishop's propensity for playing the puck. With the Albany playing surface notorious for wacky bounces, Bishop would be neutralized, Donato figured.
But Bishop figured out a way to stay involved, without getting too risky.
"Bishop was outstanding outside his crease, getting to pucks and setting it up for their 'D,'" Donato said.
That didn't come as a surprise to Maine.
"He's surprisingly composed for a freshman," said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. "Especially for a true freshman. He has a confidence, but also a good awareness too of not being too dangerous. He rides a good balance. We try to show confidence in him, and he's able to keep that balance well.
"He was aware of (the bounces). We had a practice and he got used to the rink a little bit."
The cupboard is far from bare for Harvard, and there's no reason to doubt that the Crimson will be back again next season.
"One of the keys to our success was the development of our young guys," Donato said. "We graduate some great character and guys who laid the groudwork for the future success of our program. ... The prospects going forward are very bright."