Bears bear down, take series
What were the odds against this happening? A couple of thousand to one? Harvard had played 2,189 hockey games since 1898 and never had been shut out in consecutive games by an American college team. Brown was at the bottom of the league and hadn't won two in a row all season. Until last night.
"Couldn't have happened at a better time," said coach Roger Grillo, after his 12th-seeded Bears (5-21-5) had blanked the fifth-seeded Crimson (9-16-6), 2-0 at Bright Center behind 47 saves from freshman goalie Mike Clemente to sweep their ECAC first-round playoff series and advance to a quarterfinal date next weekend at top-seeded Yale.
It was a huge accomplishment for Brown, which had won its fewest regular-season games (three) in two decades.
"A lot of teams would have pulled the chute and gotten ready for spring break," said Grillo, whose varsity hadn't won a playoff series since 2005. "Our guys aren't like that. They're hockey players and they want to play hockey."
It was a bitter defeat for Harvard, which hadn't lost a home playoff series in 14 years, winning 10 in a row, and had been playing well for the past month.
"Our group feels we're a tough team to beat, especially at home," said coach Ted Donato, whose varsity had been stifled, 1-0, in Friday's opener and ended up with its fewest victories since 1980. "This is an early ending for us, and I don't think anybody's happy about it."
Not after the Crimson had come in with a six-game unbeaten streak after the Beanpot. Still, the hosts knew they'd be in for a grinder of a weekend against a Brown team that considers Harvard its archrival. "They've given us trouble all my career," said Crimson cocaptain Brian McCafferty. "It's never an easy game."
Nor was it this time. Harvard took 86 shots in two nights and couldn't score, even on six power plays. "We scored three goals this weekend," said Clemente, "and they were all garbage."
But they came at critical times. Eric Slais's walk-in put the Bears up less than three minutes in last night. And Aaron Volpatti's power-play tally at 3:27 of the final period was a crunching shot to the jaw. "Gotta give their team credit," said Donato. "They really battled and made it tough for us in both games."
History said that the Bears wouldn't even survive here, much less sweep - no No. 12 ever had beaten a No. 5. But after winning the opener, and handing Harvard its first home shutout since November 2003, Brown knew it had an excellent chance if it played its game.
"It's always good to sweep," said Clemente, "but if something went wrong and we didn't win, we would have been guns-a-blazin' on Sunday."
Still, nobody from Providence wanted to take a chance on a third game, so the Bears came out attacking and beat Ryan Carroll (24 saves) on their second shot. From there, the visitors stuck with the same formula that had worked wonderfully Friday - keeping Harvard's forwards away from the net, limiting them to one shot, and letting Clemente deal with it.
"I don't think we had the answer for how we could have solved Clemente," said Donato, whose squad has won only one of its last eight meetings with Brown.
Not that Harvard didn't try as the clock ticked down. Donato pulled Carroll with 2:14 to play, and when the Crimson went on the power play at 18:23, they ended up taking the final 11 shots of the game. In the end, though, it was 120 straight minutes of nothing, which hadn't happened around here in 111 years.
"The history part is not a huge deal for us," observed Grillo, as his players got ready for a trip to New Haven instead of Cancun. "For the season we had, to win back-to-back games and to have another week of hockey and have a chance to get to Albany is the biggest thing right now."
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.