After splitting the season series with Harvard and winning three of its last four games against the Crimson, the men’s hockey team had high hopes heading into its best-of-three series against the No. 21 team in the country.
But it wasn’t the weekend Brown (8-20-3, 5-14-3 ECAC) had hoped for: In two games emblematic of its entire season, Bruno fell to Harvard (17-11-3, 11-8-3) 6-2 and 4-3, crashing out of the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
After coming out strong in the first game, Brown’s Achilles heel — its special teams — proved fatal. The Bears got a power play after 50 seconds but were unable to convert. When Sam Lafferty ’18 was whistled for interference, the man advantage led to Harvard’s first goal of the game. Alexander Kerfoot got the puck down to superstar Jimmy Vesey right behind Tim Ernst’s ’17 goal, and from there the Crimson star found Kyle Criscuolo, who tapped into an empty net.
“They’re a very gifted hockey team, and I thought we started off the game pretty strong,” said Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94. “Then the play of our special teams bit us … I thought our (defensive) core got overwhelmed a little bit.”
“I thought we got off to a good start,” said Harvard Head Coach Ted Donato. “I thought our power play was pretty crisp, and we didn’t make any major mistakes early.”
Josh McArdle ’18 was called for an interference penalty about nine minutes later, and Harvard took advantage. One second after the power play expired, Colin Blackwell netted Harvard’s second goal.
Blackwell has been sidelined for much of the last two years with symptoms from a bad concussion, but he was able to make his way back last weekend and added another dimension to an already dangerous Harvard team.
“He’s got a lot of good energy — I mean he’s a kid that we recruited,” Whittet said. “He’s a nice boy with a nice family, and he’s gone through a lot of trials and tribulations. I don’t feel happy that he scored two on us, but you feel good for a kid that can overcome some of those scary concussions.”
Kerfoot went down later in the first period with a shoulder injury, and he did not return for the rest of the series.
Five minutes into the second period, Brown found itself down 4-0 and basically out of the game. Vesey — whose name appeared frequently in the box score, as it has all season — got his first of the night, courtesy of a wicked wrister that beat Ernst glove-side .
“He’s one of the best players in the country, and he’s been remarkably consistent,” Donato said.
Jake Horton earned one shortly after courtesy of a bouncing, deflected puck that just squeezed past Ernst. The sophomore was pulled after the fourth goal for Tyler Steel ’17, who had not played in a little over a month.
“Timmy’s been lights out for us,” Whittet said. “I don’t think the fourth goal was a very good goal to let up, but I pulled him because I wanted to rest him for Saturday more than anything.”
Brown was able to get one back in the second period thanks to a short five-on-three power play, as Matt Lorito ’15 scored his first and only goal of the weekend. The Bears had been 0-17 on the power play leading up to the Lorito goal and had allowed a shorthanded goal in that time span.
“I thought we had some good possession, even away from that five-on-four goal,” Whittet said. “We want to do that instead of just funnelling pucks to the net and making it ugly, so it was nice to get a power play goal.”
The third period did not bring relief for the Bears, as Blackwell got his second of the night, roofing one past Steel. Vesey got his second just minutes later, as Brown was caught on a change and Vesey stayed on, walking in and putting the puck past the helpless Steel. Nick Lappin ’16, arguably Brown’s best offensive player in the series, got a consolation goal late, but the game ended 6-2 in favor of the Crimson.
“I think we had to get back to playing really, really sound defense and be a little more physical,” Whittet said.
The second game got off to better start for Bruno, as Lappin put the Bears on the board first after two minutes and 30 seconds. But the rest of the first period was all Harvard: Vesey was stoned by both the pipe and Ernst on a couple of breakaways before getting his first of the night with a snipe to the top shelf. Criscuolo got his second of the series a few minutes later, and then Brian Hart netted his first to close out the first period. Hart moved up to the top line in Kerfoot’s absence and played extremely well despite the transition.
“Brian’s a very good hockey player. He was drafted in the second round for a reason, and he fit in seamlessly in the last two periods Friday night and tonight,” Vesey said. “I thought we started off well, but they unfortunately got the first goal. I thought my line came out exceptionally hard, and we were able to pop three in and that ended up being the difference.”
Brown was down two goals after the first period for the second time in two games, a difficult deficit to overcome against a team like Harvard.
“The message after the first period was to play with a little more desperation, not to let them dictate so much,” Whittet said. “They have a hell of a first line and a lot of high-end forwards, and I thought we were just too lenient to them.”
Blackwell earned his third of the series in the second period, putting Harvard up 4-1 over the Bears. Davey Middleton ’17 got his first goal since the first two games of the season, bringing the Harvard lead to two.
In the third period, it took 11 minutes, but Lappin got his third goal of the series to cut the deficit to one.
The next nine minutes were characterized by Brown chances and Harvard possession, but nothing really came close to tying the game until Ernst was pulled with 1:36 left in the game. A high stick to prevent a goal resulted in a faceoff in Brown’s defensive end, but a huge faceoff win allowed the Bears to get the puck to the other side and force a save before Max Willman ’18 put a rebound into the side netting. The buzzer sounded, and time had run out on the Bears, but after the drubbing they took the night before, the fight they showed in coming back was impressive.
“I give our guys credit. We didn’t give up,” Whittet said. “Not that I’d expect anyone that’s wearing a Brown jersey to ever give up. … I was proud of the battle effort.”
Though Lorito did not get any points in his final collegiate game, he was instrumental in both of the goals that Lappin scored, and he contributed a goal and an assist in the first game of the series. His line ended up getting five of the six goals that Brown scored all weekend, as Mark Naclerio ’16 had three points, Lappin had three and Lorito had two.
“Matt Lorito is a very, very talented guy,” Donato said. “I thought coming into the season the Lorito-Naclerio-Lappin line was arguably the best line in our league if you looked at last year’s numbers. They were a handful all weekend long. … Naclerio to me is very talented. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re watching him in the NHL sometime soon.”
“Matt Lorito is a special player. We’re really going to miss him,” Whittet said. “He’s good offensively, he’s a great leader and he’s going to go down as one of the best players in a long time to wear the uniform.”