CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- College hockey exhibitions against international foes are often extremely one-sided in favor of the NCAA participant, but the 2,187 fans in attendance at Bright-Landry Hockey Center saw an excellent clash on Sunday night.
While the score ended up looking one-sided in a 4-0 decision in fourth-ranked Harvard's, the Russian Red Stars played a second straight ECAC Hockey opponent to a tough battle for the duration.
The teams took just 19 shots on goal each in the game but the Crimson made the most of their opportunities on offense, including a pair of goals in the first.
The Red Stars, an all-star team from the top developmental, "junior hockey league" in Russia and a feeder system to the KHL, fell to Yale by just a 2-1 score on Friday night and will play four more games in the Northeastern United States over the upcoming week.
Harvard head coach Ted Donato said the game was an excellent test against a different style of opponent and was a crucial step in beginning the second half of the season. "I thought it was a good, well-played hockey game," Donato commented. "Their skill level, talent is amazing."
Minnesota Wild prospect and Harvard senior Steve Michalek made ten saves over the first two frames before making way to freshman Merrick Madsen for his first collegiate action. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect made nine saves as the Red Stars ramped up the offensive intensity in the final stanza, but ultimately fell short.
"I thought our goaltender(s) made some big saves and I think that was really the difference," Donato said. "They certainly had a lot of good chances in the second half of the game; you could see their skill level."
Just after killing a strong Red Stars power play attack that showed off some heavy shots from the point, the Crimson jumped ahead at the 4:57 mark of the first period.
Boston Bruins prospect Wiley Sherman took the initial shot from the left point that looked to go directly past Russian goaltender Nikita Bogdanov at first glance, but further review indicated a nice deflection by freshman left winger Seb Lloyd.
A very similar play wound up resulting in another Harvard goal at 13:31 as sophomore center Tyler Moy's point shot was tipped home by junior Jimmy Vesey who set up a nice screen in front. The Crimson won a quick draw back to Moy at the left point for the deflected goal, just three second into a power play.
"I just saw the puck go over to Wiley and he took the slap shot," Lloyd said. "I kind of got position on the D-man and tipped it up short side."
The second period was very evenly matched as the teams took just six shots on goal apiece, but the Crimson added a marker in the department that matters, scoring a late goal off the stick of junior Kyle Criscuolo.
Lloyd notched his second point of the game, leading an odd-man rush with the Crimson co-captain at 17:35. The co-captain was open along the opposite wing and received a beautiful pass from Lloyd in stride for an easy tap-in finish.
"Early on, we got a couple deflections for goals," Donato said. "From them being behind and probably being a little bit tired from playing last night, we were able to stretch the lead out a little bit."
The Crimson defense saw their toughest tests of the night in the third when the rookie was thrown right into the fire for the first time in his collegiate career.
Ildar Shiksatdarov, a winger from the league's Moscow Red Army franchise, had strong pressure in front of Madsen in the final period. Midway through, Shiksatdarov missed a shot just wide on the goal as Madsen recovered to his right side post to keep the Red Stars off the board.
Freshman Thomas Aiken, playing in his first collegiate game, made the most of the opportunity by scoring a goal 14:02 into the third period. Senior Tommy O'Regan started the play, feeding the Wisconsin native at the center point for a heavy shot that eluded Bogdanov through a sea of bodies.
"That's one of the nice things about playing an exhibition game like this," Donato said. "You have the opportunity to get some guys in that otherwise maybe haven't played as much recently."
With just under three minutes to go, Madsen passed one final test as he flashed leather on a hard wrister from the right circle from Loko Yaroslavl captain Alex Mokshantsev.
"I guess the negative is that we gave him too many opportunities to showcase his skills, but it was nice for him to get in a game," Donato said. "I thought he played well and not only made the saves, but looked comfortable making them."
The Crimson return to the ice on Tuesday night for their final contest of 2014, hosting RPI in a league contest at 7 p.m.