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Harvard holds off Quinnipiac, wins 6-2 in Hamden

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn/Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network

By: M.J. Baird 

Not many people would have guessed that the first matchup between the preseason number one and number two teams in ECAC hockey would come in December with both teams sporting below .500 records.

However given the sub par starts to the season for each side, both Harvard and Quinnipiac aren’t living up to expectations.

Something had to give.

On Friday night at the Frank Perrotti Jr. arena, the Crimson (3-5-1, 3-3-0 ECAC) took strides in the right direction, defeating the Bobcats (6-8-1, 3-5-0 ECAC) 6-2 on the shoulders of a Ryan Donato hat trick.

“We tried to shut down Donato and obviously did a very poor job of that,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “The five guys we thought could do that struggled, and it is what it is.”

The Boston Bruins prospect and head coach’s son, Donato is a highly touted talent in the ECAC and in college hockey as a whole. His three goals against the Bobcats lifted his season tally to seven through eight games played.

“He’s a really elite player,” Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie said. “He’s great on his feet, great hands, great playmaking ability and a better shot. When you know he is out there you need to give him no time and space, and tonight we gave him time and space and he capitalized.”

Quinnipiac and Harvard were predicted to be the two best teams in the conference just over a month ago. However when the two met on Friday, each was a middle of the pack ECAC team.

Coming into the game, the teams sported average stats in power play percentage, goals per game, goals against average and more. A month into the conference season, the teams displayed another similar stat: a lower-than-expected number in the win column.

The Bobcats looked true to form in the first five minutes against the Crimson, scoring the first goal, winning battles to pucks and appearing to play with high intensity, despite some turnovers.

However from the moment Harvard notched its first goal, three minutes later off the stick of Wiley Sherman, things began to spiral downward for Quinnipiac.

For a team that is known for its high intensity level and nose-to-the-ice resilient style of play, Quinnipiac didn’t display much of that against Harvard. The lack of success so far in 2017-18 has not only the Quinnipiac fans discouraged, but also the coaching staff frustrated.

“Its just bad hockey, guys not ready to play and that’s disappointing,” Pecknold said. “We just struggled to get out of our own way the rest of the night. We couldn’t find a way to reload and be better.

Quinnipiac recorded 24 turnovers in the first period alone, and featured sloppy puck management .

“We came out in the first and we just didn’t compete hard enough and they caught us slacking and that’s how they got that early lead,” Priskie said. “Ever since that lead we couldn’t really dig ourselves out of that hole.”

Harvard rode the wave of momentum the remainder of the period, with Donato and Lewis Zerter-Gossage each notching a goal and putting them up 3-1 at the end of the first 20 minutes of play.

Just before the halfway point of the period, Donato notched his first tally of the game. He skated out of the offensive zone corner parallel to the goal line with speed. He beat not only a Bobcats’ defender but also Andrew Shortridge low and hard blocker side to give Harvard its first lead, 2-1.

Later in the period Zerter-Gossage found himself in space in the high slot, then used his patience to calmly wait for a screen in front of Shortridge. The Crimson junior fired a shot high glove side to beat the Bobcats’ goaltender, putting his team up 3-1.

Quinnipiac came into the game with a 1-4 record when trailing after one period, and the trend continued, with the number in the loss column advancing to five.

In previous years, even when the Bobcats have trailed late in games it never seemed as if they were out of it. Late, gritty goals and scoring with the goalie pulled was almost expected in seasons past.

This time around Quinnipiac had a chance to climb back into the game with an early third period goal from Tanner MacMaster, cutting the Harvard lead to one. But less than 90 seconds later the Crimson struck back, the second of the game from Donato, to immediately thwart the Quinnipiac momentum and silence what was left of the 3,129 person crowd at the TD Bank Sports Center.

“Tonight I don’t think we had a whole team buy in,” freshman forward Odeen Tufto said. “I think there were spurts. You saw a good amount of positive stuff in the third there when we made a push. Obviously right after we scored we gave up and easy one, but definitely we didn’t play a full 60.”

A 180-foot empty net goal from Donato with under two minutes to play ended any chance Quinnipiac had of fighting back, giving Quinnipiac three conference losses at home.

The Bobcats haven’t looked like themselves of late, but Pecknold believes they are primed for a turnaround. However in high-stakes games, like a home contest against Harvard, putting on lackluster performances like the one his team showed on Friday is perplexing.

“You are playing Harvard, they are in the Frozen Four, we’ve had some good battles against them over the years. I just don’t get it,” Pecknold said. “It’s a good group of guys with good character. It just didn’t come through tonight. We have been battling that a little bit this year, so I’m not sure what’s going on. But we will figure it out.”

Quinnipiac has a short turnaround before its next game, hosting the Dartmouth Big Green on Saturday night.

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