CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- After nearly a month of watching the rest of Division 1 play hockey games that mattered, Harvard and Dartmouth finally got to join in on the action.
The storied Ivy League rivals played an exciting contest in their 204th all-time meeting, punching and counter-punching en route to a 3-3 stalemate on Saturday night at Bright-Landry Hockey Center.
"It was a really good college hockey game for two teams in their opening game," Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet said. "I liked the pace, the physical play, the goaltending and some really good offensive play."
The teams played some excellent up-and-down hockey in the early going, but Dartmouth had the majority of the quality offensive looks.
Their offensive zone time paid off in the game's first goal at 10:53 as senior defenseman Rick Pinkston fired in a slapper from the center point, giving the Big Green a 1-0 lead. Tyler Sikura provided a great screen on Harvard senior goaltender Steve Michalek, allowing the puck to find its way through.
Just 12 seconds later, Harvard answered. Big Green rookie defender River Rymsha failed to clear the puck out and instead turned it over to Kyle Criscuolo. The Crimson junior captain fed sophomore centerman Alexander Kerfoot for the quick score.
"With a year under my belt, I think I'm a little more comfortable," Kerfoot, a New Jersey Devils prospect, said. "It was huge (to score). Definitely, we don't want to get down at home. Last year, that was a big problem for us; we did that quite a bit."
Harvard dominated the start of the second, taking a 2-1 lead at 6:10. Senior defenseman Patrick McNally tallied the goal, going coast-to-coast for a wrist shot through two defenders.
"I think it's huge to keep the fans in the game and keep the boys pumped up on the bench," Kerfoot concluded, "so that was a big momentum swing for us."
Despite the Crimson taking 15 of 25 shots in the stanza, the visitors struck for the remaining two goals to jump ahead 3-2 after 40 minutes. At 7:37, Sikura won the faceoff back to fifth-year senior Eric Robinson for a one-time snap shot for the tying goal.
Robinson, a Foxboro, Mass. native, recorded just one assist in two games last season before suffering a shoulder injury. Thus, his goal and an assist in 40 minutes topped that mark in the new year. The goal was his first since Mar. 10, 2013 when he lit the lamp in Game 3 of an ECAC first-round playoff game against the Crimson.
"It was a little nerveracking but once you get that first big hit out of the way, it's very comfortable," Robinson said. "And it's always a good feeling (to score a goal) whether it's your first or 100th. ... We feel like we really gel on the ice and think similarly, so that helps."
Saugus, Mass. native Brandon McNally put the Big Green up with just 1:05 left in the stanza, taking a pair of excellent feeds from junior Tim O'Brien and sophomore Brandon Kirk for a cannon of a shot through the wickets of Michalek.
The Crimson buzzed for much of the early stages of the third and knotted the score on Patrick McNally's second of the night at 9:50. Senior left winger Tommy O'Regan slid a backhand pass to the Vancouver Canucks draft pick at the blue line for a hard shot through traffic that eluded Dartmouth junior goaltender James Kruger.
"It didn't come easy, but we've just talked a lot about grit and perseverance," Harvard head coach Ted Donato said. "I thought the guys were pretty focused, came out and played a pretty good third period and overtime."
Harvard pressed in overtime by putting three of their five total attempts on net, but Kruger stopped junior Jimmy Vesey on a couple good looks in the waning stages of the third and his defense blocked two shots in the extra period to preserve the tie.
"Were there several mistakes? Yeah, I think there were," Donato said, "but I think the effort was there. Overall, I'm happy with the way we played and I think there's a lot to build on."
Kruger stopped 14 of 15 shots in the second period en route to a career-high 34-save effort, while Michalek posted 29 in his first action of the year.
The two teams hit the road for the first time this season next weekend with Harvard beginning at RPI on Friday and Dartmouth visiting defending national champion Union. On Saturday, the teams will switch locations before returning to New England for Nov. 14 and 15 home games.