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Harvard takes key win away from Clarkson

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POTSDAM — Last-place Harvard made the road to hosting an ECAC Hockey playoff series a bit tougher for the Clarkson University men’s hockey team, stunning the Golden Knights 6-2 before 2,334 fans in the final regular-season home game Saturday at Cheel Arena.

The top eight teams in the 12-team league are assured of hosting a home playoff series and Clarkson is in seventh place with 19 points with two games remaining next weekend at Rensselaer and Union.

Had Clarkson (9-16-7 overall, 8-9-3 conference) won Saturday, it would have moved into a three-way tie with Dartmouth and Yale for fourth place, which is the final spot that gets a first-round bye.

“It was a tough game for us tonight, disappointing with what was on the line,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “At this point and time we control our own destiny and we have to play well next weekend to take care of business. It was a missed opportunity tonight and that’s what stings the most. It was sitting right in front of us tonight.”

Clarkson produced a strong outing Friday, shutting out Dartmouth 4-0, and the Golden Knights got off to a good start Saturday when Ben Sexton scored a power-play goal just 5 minutes, 24 seconds into the game.

But Harvard (8-16-3, 5-13-2) responded by scoring three goals in the first period to take a two-goal lead.

“We’ve certainly had our taste of adversity so I don’t think anybody was really getting too concerned with falling behind,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I thought our guys responded well.”

Harvard tied the game with a power-play goal from Kyle Criscuolo at 7:44, and then Criscuolo scored on a breakaway at 8:53 to give the Crimson the lead for good.

“Last night was tough,” Criscuolo said of a 4-2 loss at St. Lawrence University. “We had a lead last night and kind of blew it in two shifts. We wanted to get up on these guys and to make it a two-goal game was huge. It was good to get three in the first period and get a lead there.”

Harvard built the 3-1 lead when Greg Gozzo scored on a rebound with 23.6 seconds left in the opening period.

“I think we just got away from our game plan,” Clarkson forward Adam Pawlick said. “We have to get pucks deep and use our size and bring pucks to the net. I think we got a little too cute around our offensive blue line. We have to really drive the net, that’s where we are creating scoring chances.”

Clarkson responded to a stunning first period by controlling play in the second, outshooting the Crimson 15-3.

The Golden Knights cut Harvard’s lead to one when Simon Bessette scored on a shot from the circle at 18:31.

But after getting back into the game in the second, Clarkson was stunned again when the Crimson scored three goals in 2:53 of the third period to turn the game into a runaway.

Conor Morrison started the spurt with a shot that went over the glove of Clarkson goalie Greg Lewis and rang off the post at 6:41. Gozzo scored his second goal of the game at 7:34 and Brayden Jaw ended the run with a goal at 8:49.

“I think we clogged zones up (Friday) and we were in good position,” Clarkson defenseman Andrew Himelson said. “(Saturday) we gave up too many odd-man rushes and they were very opportunistic tonight. When they had chances they buried their chances.”

If Clarkson is to return to Cheel Arena for a playoff series, it may have to earn at least two points next weekend in road games against second-place Rensselaer and two-time defending regular-season champion Union.

“We don’t want this to be the last time we play at Cheel, so there is definitely motivation there,” Himelson said. “We want to get the best possible seed we can for the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”

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