No. 18/15 Men's Hockey Shuts Out Princeton, 3-0

Rookie Mitchell Gibson earned a shutout in his debut between the pipes for the Crimson

{shortcode-c10c807a895dd53f0629ead566810712cba1d1fd}Both the no. 18/15 Harvard men’s hockey team and the Princeton Tigers had something to prove Friday night, meeting for the first time this season at Bright-Landry. After a back-and-forth opening game, the Crimson wanted to stabilize its defensive play and pocket more league points; the Tigers, coming off a strong weekend against St. Cloud State, surely hoped to stick it to another ranked team. Add to this mix a freshman goalie for Harvard, and you have a fascinating ECAC showdown.

Nevertheless, the result was dramatic. Despite several offensive pushes, Princeton (1-1-1, 0-1-0 ECAC) was unable to fend off the Crimson (2-0-0, 2-0), whose quick-strike play and stellar goaltending led the way to a 3-0 victory. Rookie net-minder Mitchell Gibson is the only Harvard backstop to post a shutout in his NCAA debut in the 15 seasons Ted Donato ’91 has been head coach.

“[The Tigers] play with a lot of energy,” coach Donato said. “...I think we needed to elevate our game to play the same pace that they were playing at. I thought as the game wore on we were better with the puck, and put it into some areas where we could play fast.”

The first period was by and large the Tigers’ show, as the visitors wrested control of the game after a 4-on-3 opportunity early in the frame. Though it was unable to capitalize, Princeton continued to pile on the shots, but Gibson fended off the onslaught.

With time trickling down, sophomore defenseman Jack Rathbone found freshman forward Nick Abruzzese with a stretch pass. Abruzzese had a step on the lone Tigers defender still in his own zone, and fired the puck into the top corner, beating junior net-minder Ryan Ferland. His score came with just five seconds left on the clock. The Crimson left the ice after the first having been outshot, 12-7, but holding the 1-0 lead.


{shortcode-bad3660af80911b2b5c846b9ce0b027e743587e2}“I knew there was probably 20 seconds left when I got the puck,” Rathbone said. “That’s just Nick finding the seam. He can skate, so I just knew I had to get him the puck and then he did the rest.”

Princeton’s physical style and fast pace meant Harvard could not afford to sit back, however. The squads traded chances through the first half of the middle frame; Ferland had a particularly strong save on sophomore forward R. J. Murphy, who attempted to tap in a centering feed from junior forward Henry Bowlby only to be stumped by the net-minder’s pad. But the Crimson added to its score 13 minutes into the second frame, courtesy of Bowlby himself. Another long pass from Rathbone caught Bowlby cheating behind the Tigers; the junior turned on the jets and shot the puck right past Ferland for his first of the season.

In contrast to its relatively low shot volume in the first frame, Harvard found several opportunities in the second, particularly on odd-man rushes. One such chance saw sophomore forward Jack Drury with linemate Abruzzese in a 2-on-1; Drury’s shot attempt met neither net-minder nor net, but rang off the far post.

When the Crimson found another such chance, though, it did manage to bury the biscuit. This time junior forward Jack Badini was the puck-carrier. His initial five-hole shot was stopped by Ferland, but the puck pinged off the near post, carrommed into Ferland, and slid back over the goal line. Badini’s first tally of the year comes on the heels of a solid performance last weekend, when the center picked up three assists.

Though no goals were scored thereafter, the third period was not uneventful. Harvard’s man-advantage squad had two separate powerplay opportunities; though the first of these featured promising puck movement, with the top unit staying out for an extended shift, the Crimson was unable to capitalize.

{shortcode-f7e01153466b78cf467c90868d7d79de6ec9644c}“We’re doing everything but putting the puck in the back of the net,” Rathbone said. “...I don’t think we need to change anything, actually, I think it’s just a little bit more perseverance, just knowing that once one falls it’s probably going to be floodgates.”

Despite this, the four minutes of penalty-killing forced the still-threatening Princeton squad onto its heels, and that may have made the difference. Ultimately the Tigers were unable to muster enough momentum to break Gibson, leaving Harvard with two points and the rookie with a record for recent history at least.

Gibson’s 31 saves tell only half the story; throughout the game, the freshman’s poise and rebound control kept his team steady even when the Tigers came in wave after wave. After senior net-minder Cameron Gornet’s victory last weekend, it was unclear if Gibson would see ice time so soon — nor is it an indicator of who will be in net for Saturday’s game, coach Donato said.

“Coach Donato told me [about the decision] at the end of practice yesterday,” Gibson said. “...Felt good going in before the game, felt confident. First period was a little bit shaky...but [I] got settled into the game and the boys kind of took care of business… Just wanted to finish it off in the third.”

Several skaters have emerged as early contributors for the team. Rathbone’s seeing-eye passes and playmaking abilities earned him three assists, and he paces the Crimson in points (2–3—5). Badini, known last year for his remarkable faceoff win percentage, has also been putting up numbers (1–3—4). Among the freshmen, Abruzzese (2–2—4) seems perfectly at home playing on the top line and the top powerplay unit.

Of course, the weekend’s second challenge still looms. Tomorrow the Crimson must face no. 15/- Quinnipiac, its first ranked foe of the young season. With more ECAC points on the line, Harvard will have to clean up its play and bring another offensive push to the dangerous Bobcats.

—Staff writer Stuti Telidevara can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @StutiTelidevara.