Alex Killorn was determined to prevent the puck from getting past him in last Saturday night’s ECAC quarterfinal against Yale. As Harvard’s leading scorer (20 goals, 22 assists), the senior assistant captain from Montreal was prepared to make a play, even if it meant stepping outside the boundaries of his role as the center of the Crimson’s top line.
And that’s precisely what Killorn did, morphing into a puck-stopping defenseman as he sacrificed his 6-foot-1-inch, 207-pound body to make a timely block on a Yale power-play bid in overtime. It propelled the Crimson to a 3-2 win in double overtime, which enabled Harvard to even, and eventually win, its best-of-three series.
“I think a few guys on the team were surprised to see me lying on the ice, blocking a shot,’’ said Killorn, Harvard’s first career 50-goal scorer since 2004. “It’s not exactly something I do. It wasn’t the first time I’ve ever done it. I’m just not very good at it. I kind of feel like I’d rather let the goalie see the puck than me get in front of it and miss it.’’
So, where did the puck hit him?
“It got me right around here,’’ Killorn said, pointing to his upper left thigh. “It wasn’t anything too bad.’’
Its impact, though, reverberated along Harvard’s bench.
“Not only was it a great play on the ice, but it elevated the whole environment on the bench,’’ said coach Ted Donato. “The morale of the bench was lifted when you see the best offensive player laid out defensively to block a shot in overtime. It’s one of those things that really galvanized this group and gives us confidence.’’
It provided Harvard the momentum it needed to win the series last Sunday night with an 8-2 victory, and advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2006. In the clinching Game 3 , Killorn and linemates Marshall Everson and Alex Fallstrom totaled four goals and six assists, each recording a plus-4. Killorn had two goals and two assists.
“He was at his best [last] weekend,’’ Donato said of Killorn, an All-ECAC first-team selection who will be counted upon to lead the 19th-ranked Crimson (12-9-11) against No. 13 Cornell (17-7-7) Friday night in Atlantic City.
“You always hope that your best players are your best players in the most important games,’’ Donato said. “I think he was outstanding, really. He put the team on his back Saturday and Sunday.’’
Because of Killorn’s inspired play, the Crimson remain in contention for their first ECAC title and NCAA Tournament berth in six years.
“He’s always been a great offensive player, but we made him one of our top penalty killers,’’ Donato said. “He’s out there at the end of the game, even when we’re up a goal. Defensively, he plays 200 feet of the ice.’’
It was part of Killorn’s development after being selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round (77th overall) of the 2007 NHL draft.
“When he was weighing whether he was going to go pro and had that opportunity, that’s one of the things we discussed,’’ Donato said. “It was the ability for him to take on that kind of leadership and that kind of responsibility and how that would be good for him long term and his career, and offensively to have that one standout, dominant season, which he’s certainly had.’’
Tied for seventh nationally with nine power-play goals this season, Killorn has served as the fulcrum of Harvard’s unit, which ranks first in the nation at 28.4 percent (37 for 131). The Crimson have scored 25 power-play goals in their last 32 games, including multiples in 10 games.
“He’s always been great at finding his own offense, but he’s been really great at finding the players around him to make them better,’’ Donato said. “And that’s kind of the next stage for him in his development and it has really showed up lately.’’
That approach has helped Killorn jell with his linemates.
“I think, simply, he anchors the line,’’ Everson said. “When we need things to get done, he’s a guy most guys look to.’’
Said Donato, “I think they’re a big, strong, physical line. I think they work well together and a lot of times they’re matched up against the other team’s top line and defense. All three of them complement each other well; they can all pass the puck, they can be scorers at times, and they all play the right way, which is a great example for the rest of our team.’’
But in Harvard’s first of two regular-season meetings against Cornell, a 4-2 loss at Bright Hockey Center Nov. 11, Killorn failed to set the right example when he was hit with a game misconduct for grabbing an opponent’s facemask and rattling his cage.
“I watched it from the stands and obviously felt horrible,’’ said Killorn, of Cornell taking a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play tallies. “My penalty was a five-minute penalty and we ended up getting another penalty and they wound up scoring two goals and kind of took the game from there.’’
Killorn atoned Jan. 21 at Cornell’s Lynah Rink, where he scored the tying goal with eight minutes left in a 2-2 tie, the seventh of the Crimson’s NCAA-record 11 this season.
“When we played them there, I thought we played really well,’’ Killorn said. “It’s obviously really tough playing at Lynah, but I thought we played great and I think we match up well against them, so I’m excited to play them in Atlantic City.’’
All that is left for Harvard is to beat the Big Red. “We’ve tied them and lost to them, so it seems like the only natural thing, right?’’ said Killorn.
It would be about as natural as a blocked shot by Harvard’s scoring leader.
“We get pumped up any time a guy makes a big play like that,’’ Everson said. “But when you see a top scorer do that, a guy who makes contributions in a lot of different ways, to make a defensive play like that, especially in that case to probably save our season, it makes every guy look at himself and examine if they’re playing as hard as he is, because if you’re not, it’s not acceptable.
“It kind of makes everyone crank their level [of play] up.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.