This time, Harvard men’s hockey can’t complete the comeback and falls in NCAA regional

And the Crimson almost did it again in Thursday afternoon’s NCAA regional games at the MVP Arena against favorite State Minnesota, as they climbed out of a 3-0 hole to give the top-seeded Mavericks a serious scare before going 4: 3 fell.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” said coach Ted Donato, who with his strong team (21-11-3) at 16:29 with an empty cage came within one on Dornbach’s powerplay goal and had the puck in goal the corner of the Mavericks when time is up.

“We stayed with it. The fact that we never gave up, the guys kept playing, that happened a couple of times when we came down the track.”

The Crimson defeated goaltender Mitchell Gibson 3–0 with four minutes remaining in the ECAC quarterfinal opener against Rensselaer, equalizing and winning in overtime. They were up against Clarkson in the semifinals after two periods and produced three unanswered records in the third. And they sent regular-season champion Quinnipiac into overtime for their first title in five years.

So Minnesota State, No. 2 overall in the 16-team field, knew it had to work for 60 minutes and maybe longer.

“If there’s one guarantee you can get in this tournament, it’s that it’s never easy,” said coach Mike Hastings, whose side (36-5) meet Notre Dame (28-11-0) on Saturday night Will, who defeated North Dakota (24-14-1), 2-1, Thursday night via Graham Slaggert’s power-play goal in overtime. “And tonight wasn’t easy. We knew it was going to be an incredible fight against Harvard and it was.”

After last season was wiped out because of the pandemic, the Crimson, who had two recruiting classes that had never played a college game, were happy to be here. But that didn’t mean they were content to be here.

Harvard has qualified for the NCAAs in five of its last six completed seasons and made the Frozen Four in 2017. The Crimson were here to win it. However, it was a tough challenge against a Minnesota State side who had won 24 of their previous 25 games, the last 15 in a row.

It was even bigger when the Mavericks went 3-0 up after 22 minutes on goals from Connor Gregga, Reggie Lutz and Brendan Furry.

“They lived up to their bill,” said Donato, whose group, the youngest in the tournament, finished 15th overall. “I thought they were a great team.”

Had Maverick sniper Julian Napravnik converted a penalty midway through the second half, the game likely would have been out of Harvard’s reach. But Gibson (36 saves) fended him off and revived his teammates.

“The momentum went from our side to their side,” Hastings said. “And once they got going, they kept it.”

Sean Farrell scored back at 4:42, Alex Gaffney scored another at 5:30 and Harvard was back in business. Ondrej Pavel gave the Mavericks some breathing room with his high wrister six minutes into the third period, and they still led by two goals despite having less than six to play.

Then Minnesota State’s top gun Nathan Smith was called for a trip, Donato ripped Gibson with four minutes to go, and Dornbach made it a one-goal game again. Plenty of time for the Harvard Houdinis to dream up another great escape.

And grim flashbacks for the Mavericks, who lost to Providence in the 2019 Regionals after giving up two goals during a five-minute major and losing to St. Cloud with less than a minute to go in last year’s Frozen Four.

They weren’t in the mood for a heartbreak trifecta.

“You can learn a lot from these things that hurt a lot,” Hastings said. “They seem to be staying with you for a while.”

With their cage empty for the final two minutes, the Crimson went all in, putting six men in the Minnesota State zone and playing pool with the puck while looking for an opening up front. But the Mavericks refused to let her in.

“They did a good job of getting on the lanes,” said Harvard co-captain Nick Abruzzese. “They didn’t make it easy for us all night and the last 20 seconds was a microcosm of that. Kudos to them.”

So Minnesota State stayed on course for TD Garden, where it hopes to claim its first national crown in two weekends. And Harvard, where a dozen NHL draftees are returning, began to consider the opportunities that lie ahead.

“We can be very proud of how young we were and how many people probably wrote us off because of that,” Dornbach mused. “It shows where this program is going and the talent we have. We fell short tonight, but that bodes well for the rest of the programme. “

Leave a Comment