Sports

Men’s hockey top No. 6 Crimson in upset

First years excel as Bears rebound from loss to Dartmouth to down Harvard on home ice

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 9, 2015

After scoring his first goal of the season against a tough Dartmouth squad, Zack Pryzbek ’17 turns it up against Harvard.

It had been about a month since the men’s hockey team last won a game and over two months since its last ECAC win. And with then-No. 6 Harvard coming to town after the Bears (5-17-1, 2-13-1 ECAC) lost to Dartmouth (11-8-4, 8-6-2) by giving up five unanswered goals, Brown’s chances to record its first conference win in 2015 looked bleak.  But the Bears defied expectations to defeat their Ivy rival, 2-1.

Harvard (12-8-2, 8-6-2) came into the game having played over 140 minutes of hockey — a double overtime defeat to Boston University (18-4-4, 12-2-2 Hockey East) and a shutout by Yale (13-7-3, 8-6-2) — in the four days prior to its matchup against Brown. The first period showcased the Crimson’s fatigue, as the Bears enjoyed the majority of possession but trailed Harvard in shots 8-7.

Tim Ernst ’17 — who got the start after Tyler Steel ’17 allowed six goals to the Big Green — made impressive saves on the few shots that Harvard mustered. The sophomore’s best moment came when he dove to save a close, open shot from Wiley Sherman.

One minute and three seconds into the second period, the Bears struck: While his linemates changed, Matt Lorito ’15 stayed on his shift and put a shot on Crimson goalie Steve Michalek. The puck rebounded off of Michalek’s pad and straight into the path of Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Tyler Bird ’18, who capitalized on the opportunity. It was the first year’s first career goal and could not have come at a more important time for the Bears, not only in the game but also in the season. Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 put the three first-year NHL draftees — Bird, Lafferty and Max Willman ’18 — on the second line, which paid off big time.

“That’s what I expected from the drop of the puck this year, but it’s been a learning process,” Whittet said. “That freshman line played a lot of minutes tonight, and they earned them. They played very, very well.”

“The freshmen play a big role. That line tonight played really well,” Nick Lappin ’16 said. “They’re starting to figure it out a little bit.”

After the Brown goal, the Crimson settled in and was able to put some shots on Ernst, but the Bears were able to hold. Bruno had 16 blocked shots in the game, which kept a lot of Harvard opportunities away from the sophomore goalie.

Contributing on both ends of the ice, Bird had three shots in the second period and was excellent defensively as his confidence continued to grow.

“Bird’s been good for a while. He just hasn’t deposited it, but (against Dartmouth) that freshman line was very good also,” Whittet said. “He’s the youngest kid in our league by far and I think he’s the third or fourth youngest in college hockey, but he’s a big body and he played with a lot of pace and energy. He was really determined in what he did, so to see him get his first goal was a good thing, but I think it will be the first of many.”

An energetic start to the third period culminated in an incredible backhanded goal by Lappin, who took a centering pass from Mark Naclerio ’16, went by one Harvard defender and finished top shelf.

It was a huge reward for Whittet, who made the decision to go back to the Lorito-Lappin-Naclerio first line. Lorito also got an assist  — his second point of the game — to reach 98 points for his career.

“It was just a hunch. I’ve seen what they can do in the past, and they were all on the same page tonight,” Whittet said.

“We have good chemistry together,” Lappin said.

Brown survived a scare later in the period after Tyler Wood ’17 was sent to the box for tripping, but Harvard suffered an untimely too-many-men penalty to negate the Crimson’s man advantage. The game got a little chippy after Willman was judged to be offsides on a breakaway but continued the play and put the puck past Michalek, to which the Harvard players took exception. Jimmy Vesey gave the first-year a shove, and both players were sent to the sin bin.

With roughly two minutes to play, Harvard pulled Michalek, and Desmond Bergin managed to cut the deficit in half with 54 seconds left. But the Bears survived a frenetic final minute and got their second win of 2015, their second conference win and their fifth win of the season, moving them out of last place in the ECAC.

“The guys played, honestly, the best game we’ve played by far this year,” Whittet said. “We have a really good hockey team. Our record doesn’t show that right now, but I don’t care. All I want to do is continue to get better and then be at our best when the playoffs start, and I think if we play like that, we’re going to be a tough out.”

“There’s times where we’ve played well in spurts, but today it felt good to put a full sixty minutes together,” Lappin said.

It was one of few impressive performances by a Brown goalie, this time from Ernst, who has the Bears’ only shutout of the year.

“We needed it,” Whittet said. “It’s been hard because there’s been huge momentum shifts in a lot of games we played because we don’t come up with that big save at a crucial moment. I thought tonight he provided that for us and gave us an opportunity to win a low-scoring game.”

Brown fell to Dartmouth the night before after ending the first period up 3-1. Naclerio, Lappin and Zach Pryzbek ’17 were the goal scorers, but the Big Green got two in the second period and three more in the third to down the Bears.

Brown has six games to go in the regular season, with its next four on the road. But with a win finally under their belts against top ECAC competition, the Bears will hope to carry the momentum into the final stretch of the season and head into the postseason playing their best hockey.