Malone scores three to lead Crimson to 4-1 win ending Bobcats 2016-17 season

By: M.J. Baird

LAKE PLACID, NY – A rubber match is defined as “a contest consisting of a series of successive matches (typically three or five) between the same sides or people.”

Quinnipiac and Harvard took to the neutral ice of Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid to decide a winner in its rubber match this season in the semifinals of the ECAC playoffs.

But like most rubber matches, Saturday’s game was not close. Harvard won its 13th game in a row, defeating Quinnipiac by a final score of 4-1 and punching it’s ticket to the ECAC championship game.

With the loss, Quinnipiac’s slim chances of making the NCAA tournament are done.

The Crimson were led by senior Sean Malone, who notched his first career hat-trick when the lights shined brightest.

“Its pretty special. It feels pretty good to do it in a big game like this,” Malone said. “More importantly I am just happy we got the win and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

As if Malone’s impact on the game could have been missed, head coach Ted Donato only echoed the words of senior Luke Esposito in regards to Malone’s play.

“In the playoffs you need your best players to step up, and I think we’ve seen that,” Esposito said. “We needed a spark, and the best part about our team is that can come from any player.”

Malone’s three-goal game was the first time since 2009 that a hat trick was recorded in the ECAC playoffs, and the first time since 1997 that a hat-trick was scored in the ECAC semifinals.

Adjusting to the Olympic sized sheet of ice was evident for both teams, as the only recorded shot on net for the first six minutes and 30 seconds of the game was a Crimson dump-in from center ice. However, the gridlock was quickly broken up.

Harvard forced freshman goaltender Andrew Shortridge to make 13 saves in his first period of action in an ECAC semifinal, turning up the pace and adding a handful of chances on the man-advantage. Yet, Shortridge held his ground stopping all 13 attempts.

“All the guys did an incredible job pushing everything to the outside,” Shortridge said. “The guys made it easy on me for the most part. They do their job and I try to do mine to the best of my ability.”

Harvard had a handful of high quality scoring chances in the period, including Alexander Kerfoot knocking the puck within feet of the goal line, only to be knocked away by Quinnipiac senior Derek Smith.

The Bobcats sustained minimal pressure until the final minutes of the period.

“I don’t think the desperation was good enough through the first two periods,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We had some kids who were just awesome on the ice tonight. But we had some of our players, not a lot, who struggled in the moment.”

Harvard outshot Quinnipiac through the first two frames, and dominated puck possession for the first 40 minutes as well.

Scoreless after the first frame, the regular season co-champion Harvard Crimson turned up the pressure in the second.

Malone used the space of the Olympic sheet to his advantage, patiently walking into the high slot and firing a shot past the right pad of Shortridge.

From the moment the goal was scored until the next television timeout, a span of about 5 minutes, Harvard dominated play. Shortridge made some excellent saves to bail out his frantic defense, and the Bobcats weathered the storm at a time when the Crimson could easily have run away with things.

Quinnipiac responded well to the swing of momentum following the timeout, drawing a penalty. The Bobcats wasted no time this time around on the man-advantage.

Thomas Aldworth threw a puck toward the front of the net from almost below the goal line, and the puck somehow found its way off the pad of Madsen and into the back of the net.

After that, the Quinnipiac surge was quickly smothered.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of separating them at times. I thought when we had the puck, we played with a little bit of panic in our game,” Pecknold said. “We needed to posses it and work the puck down low, and we had talked about it all week long and we really didn’t do a very good job of that. “

Malone took advantage of tired Quinnipiac skaters after killing a penalty, hammering home a rebound on the back door to put the Crimson back up by a goal.

A Connor Clifton penalty in the final seconds of the second period gave Harvard momentum heading into the third.

Malone competed the hat trick after dancing untouched to the front of the crease and tucking a shot on the ice past the outstretched pad of Shortridge just four minutes into the final frame.

The Crimson never looked back from there, allowing Quinnipiac no sign of life even with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker.

Esposito put the final touch on the victory with an open net goal with two minutes to go, sending the Bobcats home without a chance to play in the championship game and defend their Whitelaw Cup from a season ago.

“In some ways our seniors feel like you cant win the ECAC unless you play Quinnipiac along the line,” Donato said after the game. “It was a great win for us, and there is a lot of respect (for Quinnipiac).”

A streak comes to an end for the Quinnipiac senior class. The six players were a part of three straight NCAA tournament appearances, two ECAC regular season titles, the programs first ever Whitelaw Cup and perhaps most notably 102 wins over four seasons.

“An outstanding group of guys with great character,” Pecknold said about the class. “A nice group of young men that have done a lot to put our program on the map”

From a player perspective, the same holds true.

‘These four years have been an absolute privilege,” senior Tim Clifton said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

The Crimson earned a chance to play for their second Whitelaw cup in three seasons tomorrow night. Harvard awaits the winner of Union and Cornell. Puck drop is set for 7:35 p.m. Saturday.

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