Sports

Men’s hockey takes on Crimson in first round of ECAC tournament

Second half surge sets up rematch between Bruno, No. 19 Harvard after regular season split

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2015

Zach Pryzbek ’17 skates up the ice in the teams’ last matchup. Tyler Bird ’18 and Nick Lappin ’16 got the Bears’ two goals in their 2-1 win over the Crimson, which marked the third time that Brown beat Harvard in its last four tries. The best-of-three series starts Friday at 7 p.m. in Cambridge.

Since the men’s hockey team registered its first conference win of the season in December, it has remained firmly rooted in the 11th spot in the ECAC. It was not until consecutive wins over Rensselaer and Union — the ninth and 10th teams in the conference standings, respectively — that Brown had a chance to escape the bottom two.

Heading into the last weekend of the season, Bruno (8-18-3, 5-14-3 ECAC) was one point out of 10th but surrendered a 3-0 lead to Cornell, which forced a tie. The results last Friday solidified Brown’s spot as the 11th seed in the ECAC tournament, but who Bruno’s opponent would be was still unclear.

Dartmouth — which had beaten the Bears 6-0 and 6-3 already this season — beat No. 11 Quinnipiac, securing the fifth seed and a trip to Princeton. After Harvard beat the Tigers, the Bears finally knew they would have to visit Cambridge for a best-of-three series against the No. 19 Crimson.

“Harvard is a great matchup,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. ”Both teams have a lot of speed, so it will be a really fast-paced and energetic game.”

“We’re very excited,” said Matt Lorito ’15. “We feel like it’s a good matchup for us, and having beaten them once this year gives us confidence. But they’re a good team, and it’s not going to be easy to beat them in their rink.”

Harvard (15-11-3, 11-8-3) dismantled Brown earlier in the season, claiming a 6-2 victory in which the Crimson scored three of its goals on the power play. Tyler Steel ’17 was removed from net just two minutes into the second period after giving up his third goal on 19 shots. Tim Ernst ’17 performed just as poorly, allowing three goals on 23 shots, as Brown suffered one of its worst losses to Harvard in recent memory.

But the second of the teams’ matchups was an entirely different story: Fresh off of a double-overtime loss to Boston University and a loss to Yale, Harvard’s tired legs allowed Brown to get two goals and ride Ernst’s 23-save effort to a 2-1 victory. Despite the season split, the Bears will definitely come into the game as the underdogs because of their multiple prolonged stretches of poor play this year.

“We don’t really see it as pulling off an upset,” Naclerio said. “We split with them this year, and we know when we play our way, we can beat anyone. So we are just going to stick to playing Brown hockey and control what we can control.”

The win against Harvard propelled Ernst to the starting position, which he has held since. Over the past month, the sophomore has led the league in save percentage and saves in conference play, which was enough for the conference to award him ECAC Goaltender of the Month honors.

“Becoming comfortable with the speed of the game has been huge,” Ernst said. “When I was first playing, I hadn’t played in more than a year, so I felt like I was chasing the game, where now I feel more comfortable in net.”

Since the game against Brown, Harvard has gone 3-3-1 with an impressive 4-1 win over fourth-place Colgate and losses to Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Boston College.

Jimmy Vesey leads the Crimson with 44 points on the year, tallying 22 goals and 22 assists. The junior leads the ECAC in both points per game and goals per game, while linemate Kyle Criscuolo is third in the former statistic.

Tyler Moy and Alexander Kerfoot are also formidable Harvard forwards, and both are top-20 in the conference in points. In contrast, the Bears only have two players in the top-25 in the ECAC in points, and both Lorito and Naclerio have fewer points than Kerfoot, Harvard’s fourth-leading scorer.

“The key for us is going to be making sure we’re playing from the defensive side,” Lorito said. “We’re going to have to be smart with the puck and not give them much in transition.”

But a more recent view of the individual scoring picture reveals that Brown’s top forwards have been more productive than Harvard’s of late, as Naclerio, Lorito and Nick Lappin ’16 rank in the top 15 in points per game for February. Conversely, only Vesey and Criscuolo rank that highly among conference players in that time span. In order to beat Harvard, the players in the first line — and the rest of Bruno’s forwards — will have to be on top of their game.

“The season is important, but playoffs is when it counts, so this is the time when you want to be at your best,” Lorito said.

Goalie Steve Michalek, who ranks sixth in the conference in save percentage, anchors Harvard between the pipes. The senior netminder has had some ups and downs this season, including a 63-save performance against BU in the Beanpot and a loss to Union in which he gave up five goals on 26 shots. Michalek has been in poor form as of late, ranking eighth in the ECAC in save percentage in the past month. Despite the lopsided win totals, Ernst has definitely been the better of the two netminders in the last month of the season.

“It will be fun,” Ernst said. “There’s no pressure, so I’m just going to go out and have fun with it.”

In last year’s postseason — in which the Bears lost two straight games to St. Lawrence — Bruno struggled in the absence of Lorito, who missed the series due to an injury.

“Obviously it’s never fun being hurt, but it was especially difficult last year not being able to help the guys compete for an ECAC championship,” Lorito said. “I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to do that this year, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help bring Brown its first ECAC title. ”