It was a night that started with renewed optimism, a chance to get off on the right foot after a volatile first half and three-week holiday break.
The Boston University men’s hockey team had a full complement of players, some returned from abroad and some from the trainers’ room, against a sub-.500 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference squad, and a win in the first of three games over eight days for the Terriers would mean getting back to the .500 mark themselves.
But by the end of 60 minutes of play at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center on Saturday, the Terriers were as disappointed as the Boston air was cold. Harvard University held off BU, 7-4.
The Terriers (7-9-2, 2-4-1 Hockey East) drew within 5-4 and had a power play for the final 4:47 of the game, but two shorthanded goals from Harvard freshman Sean Malone — one on a one-on-goalie breakaway, another on an empty net — put the game out of reach.
It was the only man-advantage out of four that BU did not score on.
“It was just a lucky bounce,” said BU coach David Quinn of the shorthanded dagger. “It goes right off our defenseman’s skate, comes bopping out to the neutral zone … and goes right to their guy on the breakaway.
“Before that, I thought we had some zone time, a lot of zone time for the first two and a half minutes of that power play. [The team was] too slow and methodical. I was going to call a timeout, but the play never stopped. That was the unfortunate part of it.”
The Crimson (5-7-2) lit up sophomore goaltender Matt O’Connor for four goals before the game was half over, and little changed when his classmate, Sean Maguire, came on in relief. It was the first game action for Maguire, who has battled back issues, since Nov. 15, when he was pulled halfway through a blowout loss against the University of Maine.
“I thought maybe [O’Connor] wasn’t on his ‘A’ game,” Quinn said. “And I just thought it was the right thing.”
A consistent flow of Terriers to the penalty box — they served nine minors, five in the first period alone — opened the door for a pair of power-play goals for the Crimson, who entered the contest with one of the worst power-play conversion rates in the country (13.5 percent).
Sophomore forward Sam Kurker, playing for the first time since Nov. 17, was the only player charged with two of those.
“I don’t know where it came from, including my own [hooking],” said senior captain Patrick MacGregor. “I don’t think it was anything with the refs. … It was kind of one of those things that crept in again that hopefully by Wednesday [when BU plays Dartmouth] we can get out of our game.
BU got off to a quick start when sophomore forward Cason Hohmann — in his first shift since injuring his shoulder Nov. 22 — beat Harvard netminder Raphael Girard glove-side from the right circle just 47 seconds into the game.
But the Terriers paraded to the penalty box, which meant trouble in terms of trying to produce at the offensive end.
Winger David Valek one-timed a rebound into an open BU net at 7:39 to knot the score at one. Five minutes later, with captain Garrett Noonan serving two minutes for cross-checking, winger Phil Zielonka gave Harvard the lead for good with his first collegiate goal.
The second period got ugly.
Harvard’s Victor Newell also picked up his first NCAA tally at 2:37 in the second with a slapper from the right point, which snuck past O’Connor through traffic.
Freshman center Dillon Lawrence got it back shortly thereafter when the puck bounced off his skate near the crease and in — his first point, too — but the Crimson struck twice more before the period was out.
Zielonka scored again at the 8:12, and wing Jimmy Vesey followed suit four minutes later on a shot from the right point.
Sophomore center Danny O’Regan, freshly back from playing with the U.S. U-20 team at the World Junior Championships, made it 5-3 six minutes into the final frame. He put away his own rebound off of a shot from in close for his team-high sixth goal of the season.
BU made it 5-4 with about six minutes to play when sophomore defenseman Ahti Oksanen scored on a blast from the right point for a power-play goal.
Senior wing Jake Moscatel was crushed into the boards by Harvard captain Dan Ford with 4:47 to play, resulting in a five-minute major for hitting from behind.
BU consistently pressured, but Malone scored twice. The Terriers never capitalized on the lengthy power play, and their first comeback attempt of 2014 fell short.
The seven goals BU yielded tied a season high.
“We really have to do a better job in our own end,” Quinn said. “You give up chances, you spend time in your own end for one of two reasons: You’re not defending hard enough or you turn pucks over. I think there was a little bit of both of that tonight.
“We just have to defend so much better. We really do. It’s something that we’re going to have to address and spend more time on.”