30 Seconds of Heartbreak For Harvard
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CHICAGO Emotional swings are commonplace in college hockey. The pressure is so high to win during each game. The smallest lapse or a little luck one way or the other can mean everything. There’s no comfort in rebounding in a series in the NCAA tournament. Second chances don't exist. Get it done or wonder what went wrong.
Harvard experienced the proverbial rollercoaster during the third period of Thursday night’s national semifinal against Minnesota-Duluth. Tied 1-1 with 14:19 remaining, Harvard had its chances — it put 40 shots on Bulldogs’ goaltender Hunter Miska — but the best opportunity to take the lead came down to controversy.
Confusion in front of Miska resulted in a pile of bodies, panic, a whistle and a muted celebration. Freshman defenseman John Marino launched one at the Duluth net, but Tyler Moy’s finish was waved off immediately. The whistle may have been before Moy’s would-be second goal of the evening, but since the replay system’s audio failed, the Crimson will never know.
Still, they pushed. Harvard had chances to win this game.
Then the world came crashing down during the final minute. Too many lapses and, eventually, the Crimson paid for it. You could see it coming from a mile away. UMD took a 2-1 lead. A fantastic finish. Heartbreak for Harvard.
Of course, Harvard experienced deficits multiple times this season and came back. But there was much more time to refocus and regroup then. This time, it had to happen immediately. They needed to snap out of the shock.
They nearly did.
Duluth iced the puck with 19 seconds left. Harvard got what it wanted, and now just had to make it work.
Senior Alex Kerfoot had the first chance to extend his career. Two shots off the draw, but neither found a home. The hourglass was nearly expired when fellow senior Luke Esposito fired a prayer from the high slot with 3 seconds left.
As the puck was cleared out of Duluth’s zone, Harvard’s heart was ripped out. A couple inches, and the game goes to overtime.
"I knew that the far side was open, and, I don't know, I'm still in disbelief that it didn't go in. The whole last 30 seconds I can't believe," Esposito said. "I didn't have time to look. I didn't want to get it blocked, I just knew the far side would be open."
The shot might have gotten a little piece of UMD defender Nick Wolff, too.
"It was not the way you expected any of this to end, but especially like this, you feel like there's still a period left or something," Esposito said.
Just moments earlier, Esposito was involved in the decisive goal, too.
Multiple attempts to clear the puck were snuffed out by Duluth. Harvard overloaded one side trying to jam it out, and when it didn't get out, it allowed an odd-man situation on the other side.
"That's another thing I'll never forget. I had the puck just inside the blue line and didn't get it out," Esposito said. "I didn't know if it was because I didn't know it was there, or whiffed or something. I'll have to look. But it's tough to swallow for sure."
Duluth freshman Joey Anderson tossed it to Willie Raskob. Alex Iafallo sized up goalie Merrick Madsen. Raskob’s pass hit Iafallo’s stick perfectly and Madsen couldn’t do a thing about it. Right through his legs with 26.6 seconds left.
“It was just one of those things where he catches it so in tight, where I was just trying to get as much of my body as I could in front of it,” Madsen said. “He just happened to find the little hole there that I had in my five hole. Maybe I could have had my stick there a little more, but who knows.”
And then it was over.
All that preparation for this moment — the wake-up call after the losing streak, the late tie against Yale at Bright-Landry Hockey Center in January, the two games against the rivals in the ECAC quarterfinals — and the shot came a hair away from extending it.
“Every guy on that bench thought that we had a great shot of being able to put one in there,” Moy said. “We hit (a post) there, and we were in it until the last second.”
Harvard had the right play. They had the perfect look. The emotion went from shock to hope to numbing pain over the course of 26.6 seconds in a 2-1 loss in the semifinals of the Frozen Four.
"The emotions, the love in the locker room, and this was such a special group," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "I think it's always tough, but when you have the type of kids that we have as seniors this year and the success that they allowed us to have, I think the end was so sudden that I was hitting the post three times there I think in the last 25 seconds. It's really just hard to describe."
Maybe it would've been different if Harvard could get going earlier, but Duluth's size and tenacity caused trouble in the first period and a half.
"I don't think we were able to get out of our zone as cleanly as we would have liked and establish some offensive zone play," Donato said. "But I thought the second half of the game ... (we found) our groove a little bit.
"I think it was two teams that both are very good defensively. So I thought we generated chances. I don't think the game ever got probably up and down the ice as much as we would have liked. But as I said, I think Minnesota-Duluth deserves a lot of credit for that."
It’s going to hurt for a while. These losses in the Frozen Four always do. But while the fairytale ending didn’t come, the ride was something people in the Harvard community will remember.
“They broke down some pretty tough barriers, as far as getting over the hurdle and getting the program back to the final four,” Donato said. “We’re all pretty heartbroken with the way the game ultimately ended, but we’ll look back at this group and this season as one that had an incredible year.”
This ride may have stopped on a low, but winning every title available up to the Frozen Four — something the three other teams couldn’t do — will resonate for a long time. Harvard checked off nearly every box this season.
The pencil just broke on the last box.