PROVIDENCE -- There is no such thing as a favorite in the NCAA Tournament.
The going was not easy for top-seeded Harvard in the early stages of Friday’s East Regional semifinal opener at Dunkin’ Donuts Center, but the Crimson sure had the will to win.
Senior Tyler Moy scored first and last for Harvard, which earned a 3-0 win over fourth-seeded Providence to advance a round in national postseason play for the first time since 1994.
“We’re very happy and excited to move on. I want to give Providence a lot of credit; I thought they played an excellent hockey game,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “There were certainly stretches of the game where they carried the play. They worked hard and were physical, so we’re very excited to move on.”
The Crimson did weather an early storm from the hometown team as junior Merrick Madsen stopped all 17 first-period shots he faced, then scored their lone goals in the middle frame. The Friars held a 17-11 shot advantage in the opening frame.
Providence pressured early in the first, forcing Madsen to make stops on several quality chances. Sophomore Ryan Tait and freshman Kasper Bjorkqvist teed up point-blank shots from the circles in the early going, while freshman Josh Wilkins slotted a backhander through traffic from low in the right circle.
“Obviously, they had that big first flurry there,” Madsen said. “In a way, I felt like that got me into the game a lot easier than it would have been if I didn’t see any shots. We don’t want to be giving up a lot of chances like that early on, but I think as a team we kind of calibrated and took it to them through the rest of the period and the game.”
The Friars nearly took the game’s first lead with less than four minutes left in the opening frame, but sophomore Erik Foley’s goal was immediately waved off due to an offsides call. In the second, Scott Conway hit the post six minutes in.
It was not for a lack of effort, but the Friars just didn’t get the bounces.
“It’s tough to be disappointed with the way we played tonight,” Providence head coach Nate Leaman, whose team finishes the season with a 22-12-5 record. “I thought we played a terrific game. We had a lot of great chances, the looks we wanted. The guys executed the game plan we wanted to execute, but the puck just didn’t go in.”
Madsen made 13 saves in the second period and totaled 41 in the game, topping his previous career-high mark by three.
“Tonight, I thought Merrick was our first star and gave us a chance to start the second period,” Donato said. “Because after the first two periods, I thought the game was fairly equal.”
Harvard’s senior class teamed up for the opening goal on a power play just 1:09 into the second as Moy beat Providence sophomore Hayden Hawkey with a wrister from the left circle. Classmate Alexander Kerfoot got credit for the primary assist as he placed the initial shot on goal that led to the rebound on which Moy scored.
That proved to be all the offense Harvard would need. The Crimson will play the Western Michigan-Air Force winner in Saturday’s regional title game at 8:30 p.m.
“I do think there’s a bit of relief just to get that first (NCAA Tournament win since 1994) off our back, and certainly coming in as the favorite, if there can be a favorite,” Donato said. “All of the teams are really good, and having to play Providence in Providence, there was certainly some anxiousness and we really wanted to get that win.”
However, the Crimson saw its lead double at 17:46. After sophomore Ryan Donato used a great individual effort to work into the slot and take a shot that hit the crossbar, freshman defenseman Adam Fox cleaned up the mess and slipped the rebound past Hawkey for his sixth goal of the season.
For the Friars, it was a valiant effort. There were dominant stretches, but the puck luck was not there. Despite the loss, it was the hometown team’s fourth straight tournament appearance, making it one of just three teams in college hockey to achieve that feat.
There is a lot to be proud of.
“The only thing we didn’t do tonight was finish. We got great chances, second chances, whacks at it, a goal that got called back,” Leaman said. “I’m really happy with where we finished up.”