Union was fortunate that it had the line of freshman right wing Michael Pontarelli, freshman center Mike Vecchione and senior left winger Matt Hatch going on Friday against Harvard.
If that trio didn’t combine for three goals and five assists, then Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett would have had to answer why his team looked sloppy at times, especially in the third period, and lost.
Thanks to the 3M Line — Michael, Matt and Mike — the third-ranked Dutchmen held on to beat the Crimson, 4-3, before a standing-room only crowd of 2,169 at Messa Rink.
Hatch had two goals and an assist, Pontarelli collected three assists and Vecchione, who missed the last four games with a full-body injury, had a goal and an assist.
Their fourth straight win lifted the Dutchmen (10-2 ECAC Hockey, 16-4-3 overall) into first place, one point ahead of idle Quinnipiac.
But it wasn’t pretty. Asked what would have happened if the 3M Line wasn’t on their game, Bennett said, “That’s a great question. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I know it’s not a good response. But I don’t have a crystal ball.”
After Harvard (2-9-3, 5-11-3) took a 1-0 lead on an Alexander Kerfoot goal 4:30 into the game, Vecchione got it back late in the period. He was in the slot when Hatch attempted a wraparound, but the puck slid off of his stick. It went to Vecchione, who fired it past goalie Steve Michalek’s glove with 6:32 left in the period.
“Playing with these two [Hatch and Pontarelli], it’s pretty easy to get into a rhythm out there,” said Vecchione, who has six goals and nine assists. “As the game went on, I got a little more comfortable out there. I got a goal. That really breaks the ice for me. We were rolling from there.”
The only goal the 3M Line didn’t have a role in was Kevin Sullivan’s tiebreaking tally 6:14 into the second period. Sullivan’s backhander from the goal line to the left of the net hit Harvard defenseman Dan Ford and went into the net.
Hatch made it 3-1 with 3:56 left in the second. Pontarelli’s initial shot was stopped, and there was a scramble for the rebound. Vecchione jabbed at it before Hatch put it in.
“The coaching staff stresses doing the little things and outworking your opponent,” said Hatch, who has eight goals and three assists. “We knew they were going to come at us hard. We knew the building was going to be packed. We knew it was going to be an intense game and an intense atmosphere.
“Right from the beginning, our plan was to get pucks low and outwork them. That was a process of a couple of our goals.”
But the Dutchmen got sloppy in the third. They got too fancy with the puck, and it led to turnovers. One of them resulted in a Brian Hart goal with 8:29 left.
“I don’t know if we kept it as simple as we could tonight,” Bennett said. “We had a few turnovers there. Our emphasis of our five-foot rule [and] simplicity was lacking there tonight. And it’s easy to throw it on the young guys. It was collective tonight, and that’s a little disheartening.”
But 54 seconds later, Pontarelli and Hatch teamed up to make it 4-2.
Pontarelli forced a turnover at the right point in the Union zone. He led a two-on-one rush down the left wing. When he got to the left faceoff circle in the Crimson zone, Pontarelli fired a cross-ice pass to Hatch. He settled the puck down, and then ripped a shot past Michalek’s glove.
“One of their forwards tried to throw it back to their defenseman in the high zone,” said Pontarelli, who has nine goals and 10 assists. “It jumped over his stick, and we went on a two-on-one. I sent it over to ‘Hatchie.’ I think the pass was too hard, and he did a great job of stopping it and having great poise to put it in there.”
That proved to be the game-winner when Tyler Moy surprised goalie Colin Stevens, beating him to the stick side with a shot from the high slot 1:15 after Hatch’s goal.
Despite some sloppy play, the Dutchmen aren’t going to give back the win. But they will need to be better tonight when they face Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the second annual Mayor’s Cup game at 7:30 at the Times Union Center.
“At the end of the day, the main goal is that we won,” Pontarelli said. “That’s what we’re taking away from it. Obviously, we want to get better every game. There was a little bit of adversity tonight, but we came with the ‘W’. That’s all that matters.”
Harvard 1 0 2 — 3
Union 1 2 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Harvard, Kerfoot 5 (Anderson, Bergin), 4:30. 2, Union, Vecchione 6 (Hatch, Pontarelli), 13:28. Penalty — Hart, Uni (cross-checking), 9:54.
Second Period — 3, Union, Sullivan 4 (Pontarelli, Novak), 6:14. 4, Union, Hatch 7 (Vecchione, Pontarelli), 16:04. Penalties — McNally, Har (hooking), :40; Bergin, Har (tripping), 1:06; Gingras, Uni (interference), 7:34; Wilkins, Uni (tripping), 10:43; Vesey, Har (cross-checking), 20:00.
Third Period — 5, Harvard, Hart 2 (Malone, Newell), 11:31. 6, Union, Hatch 8 (Pontarelli), 12:27. 7, Harvard, Moy 2 (O’Reagn, Valek), 13:42. Penalty — Gostisbehere, Uni (tripping), 1:35.
Shots on Goal — Harvard 8-7-11 — 26. Union 6-14-5 — 25.
Power-play opportunities — Harvard 0 of 3; Union 0 of 4.
Goalies — Harvard, Michalek 1-5-1 (25 shots-21 saves). Union, Stevens 13-2-1 (26-23).
A — 2,169. T — 2:12.
Referees — Jean-Yves Roy, Andy O’Brien. Linesmen — Jason Shattie, Mike Emanatian.