Harvard stuns No. 1 Boston University on Criscuolo’s OT winner

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BOSTON — Two days before Thanksgiving, Boston University and Harvard played a game that was a real feast for any pure fan of college hockey.

Unfortunately for the Terriers, the Crimson treated themselves to an extra helping, scoring in overtime to top the new No. 1 team in college hockey by a 3-2 margin in front of 4,456 at Agganis Arena.

In an extremely well-played game dominated by two exceptional top forward lines – including the top two points-per-game players in college hockey in BU’s Jack Eichel and Harvard’s Alexander Kerfoot – the Crimson’s troika of Kerfoot, Kyle Criscuolo and Jimmy Vesey got the better of it tonight, combining for three goals and three assists.

Vesey set up Criscuolo in overtime for the winner.

Harvard won despite being outshot 42-24 by BU, which also enjoyed a whopping 87-45 advantage in shots attempted.

“I thought it was a gritty performance,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I didn’t think we had our best game at all times, and I thought BU was great. Steve Michalek was superb in the net, and our guys dug deep at the end there.”

“It was a great college hockey game,” BU coach David Quinn added. “Overall, I was really happy with our effort and the way we played. From start to finish, I thought that was a thorough as we’ve played in a while.

“Ironically, we win two hockey games last weekend, and I thought we played better tonight than we did against Maine and UConn. So it’s a funny game. And give them credit. That’s a good hockey team. Their goalie played well, they have a dangerous first line, and they were more opportunistic than we were.”

BU enjoyed an 11-1 advantage in shots over the first 13 minutes or so, but Michalek held the fort in goal, particularly when making a nice glove save when Ahti Oskanen had a good rebound bid halfway through the period.

Harvard had to feel fortunate to get out of the period scoreless, and they had to be thankful for Michalek once again early in the second. While shorthanded, BU captain Matt Grzelcyk made a nice steal and went in alone, only to be thwarted by Michalek’s pad.

BU finally took the lead at 8:57 of the second stanza on a power play. Cason Hohmann blasted a slapshot from high in the left-wing face-off circle, and Michalek stopped it. J.J. Piccinich nudged the rebound across the edge of the crease, and Matt Lane knocked it in.

Harvard got that one back within three minutes with some help from BU’s ongoing difficulty with faceoffs. Kerfoot won the offensive-end draw to Vesey, who knocked it in moments later.

The Crimson took their first lead late in the period on Crisculo’s power-play slap shot from high in the left-wing circle. The 6-foot-6 O’Connor sunk to his knees, and the shot pinpointed the corner over the netminder’s right shoulder.

BU looked great early in the third period and was rewarded with the tying goal at 6:43. Brandon Hickey passed it to Oksanen going into the Harvard zone on the left wing, and Oksanen beat Michalek cleanly with a 25-foot shot from the circle – one that Donato acknowledged that Michalek would want back.

That set the stage for a wild overtime. BU struggled repeatedly with line changes, and Vesey almost made the Terriers pay just 40 seconds in, going in all alone for breakaway. But O’Connor stopped the great chance, and play went on.

The Terriers had a great chance when a wraparound led to a scramble a half-minute later, but Harvard bounced right back with some frenetic chances shortly after that.

Finally, Harvard ended it at 3:10 when Vesey set up Criscuolo from behind the goal line.

“The puck went down the wall, and I saw Jimmy [Vesey] going for it,” Criscuolo said. “Actually, [assistant] coach [Paul] Pearl was showing us some video before the game – when the puck’s behind the net we’ve got to get guys in front. Jimmy heard me calling for it, and I got a piece of it. It rolled up the defenseman’s leg, and I think I got a piece of it out of midair.”

Harvard became the first team to keep heralded freshman Jack Eichel off the scoresheet. Eichel had scored in his first ten collegiate games.

How did the Crimson do it?

“I had a rosary bead in my coat pocket,” Donato quipped. “It certainly didn’t feel like he didn’t have points tonight because he’s dynamic. He’s a tough matchup, but our guys tried to be aggressive, tried to angle him when we could, but there was a period toward the end of the game when he was looking around and his feet were still skating around the rest of us.”

On the whole, Quinn had few complaints, acknowledging that the Terriers would win a lot of games if they continued to play as well as they did tonight.

“I thought we missed the net on some golden opportunities, but that’s youth,” he said.

BU (8-2-1) continues to face ECAC opponents when it hosts Colgate on Saturday afternoon before traveling to play Dartmouth on Sunday. Harvard (6-1-2) will face another tough Hockey East opponent this Saturday when the Crimson visit No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell. Having beaten Boston College earlier this month, Harvard will be looking to beat three consecutive Hockey East teams ranked in USCHO’s Top Ten.

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