HANOVER, N.H. – In stark contrast to how the entire contest was played, the game-winning goal by junior Eric Neiley seemed too easy as the Dartmouth men’s hockey team defeated Harvard, 2-1, Saturday night in front of 3,114 fans at Thompson Arena.
The whole night was a physical and hard-fought battle between the two ECAC Hockey and Ivy League rivals, playing their 198th all-time meeting. But it was a backdoor goal that Neiley slammed into a wide-open netmouth with 2:41 left in regulation that broke the 1-1 tie and gave the Big Green their first victory of 2013-14.
Now 1-8-0 overall and 1-6-0 in ECAC Hockey play, the cloud that had been hanging over the team for the first month of the season is gone with Saturday night’s thrilling win.
“We played very well against a very good team tonight,” head coach Bob Gaudet said. “The guys came out and played a great game in front of a great home crowd and we were able to come away with the win. We had played well enough to win other nights, so it was good to finally see it come together.”
Neiley finished a great passing play from fellow junior and linemate Brandon McNally as the two played give-and-go in the slot with McNally sliding a backhand pass across the top of the crease for the winner. Sophomore Ryan Bullock picked up his team-leading sixth assist of the season with a crucial keep at the blueline before shoveling a pass to Neiley at the half boards.
For Neiley, the goal was his team-leading sixth of the year (6-2—8).
It seemed an unfitting fate for Harvard (4-6-1, 2-5-1 ECAC) goalie Raphael Girard, who had played well all night, finishing with 33 saves. However, it was the stellar play of Dartmouth’s sophomore netminder Charles Grant at the other end of the ice that proved to be the difference. Grant turned aside 22 shots in the contest, including nine in the final frame as the Crimson seemingly had the upper hand for extended intervals of time.
Harvard managed to get on the board first as Jimmy Vesey, a Nashville Predators draft pick, beat Grant with a quick backhanded marker on a feed from below the goal line with 9:47 remaining in the second period. That would be the only time Grant would surrender a goal on this night.
Freshman Grant Opperman wasted little time in tying the game, scoring his second of the season just 3:21 later. Sophomore Geoff Ferguson put a perfectly placed pass on the stick of classmate Brad Schierhorn at the top of the right circle. Schierhorn took two strides in and slid the puck to Opperman battling with a defender at the top of the crease for the one-timer along the ice for the equalizer.
The tie would stand for nearly the rest of regulation as both teams played a physical brand of hockey that also included several end-to-end rushes. As the Big Green and Crimson put together numerous hard-fought scoring chances, it seemed odd that the game was decided by a seemingly easy skill play from two of the home team’s top-six forwards.
Neither Dartmouth nor Harvard were able to manage much with the man-advantage as the Crimson were 0-for-6 on the night with just three shots against, a product of an aggressive Big Green penalty-killing unit. The home team wasn’t much better as it was 0-for-2 with the extra skater, with both chances cut short by penalties of their own, resulting in just 1:55 of action on the power play.
Shots were 35-23 in favor of the Green.
Dartmouth will head out on the road for three straight league games in six-day span, playing at Yale and Brown next Friday and Saturday before a mid-week trip to Union for a Wednesday (Dec. 11) evening affair.