Alec McCrea was supposed to be scoring goals for Harvard. Not against them.
Back when McCrea was playing in juniors as a teenager, Cornell’s third-year defenseman was originally committed to play for the crimson and white. But when things ultimately fell through, Ithaca was the next destination for the blueliner, who, in the purest instance of poetic justice, scored the Red’s game-winner against rival Harvard with 1.4 seconds left on the clock Saturday night to power Cornell to its first 6-0 start in 46 years.
“That was really emotional for me getting that last goal,” said McCrea, whose tally secured both Cornell’s first win over Harvard since 2015 and a weekend sweep for the Red after Friday’s thrashing of Dartmouth. “It was a great effort from our team this weekend.”
McCrea’s clutch score, which was his third power play goal of the year and the second point of his career against what was his almost-home, could have easily been for naught. In the waning moment of a 5-on-3 after Harvard coach Ted Donato earned his team a bench minor penalty for arguing a no-call with the referees, Cornell was gifted a faceoff inside the Harvard zone with 17 seconds to play in the third period.
Junior forward Beau Starrett won the faceoff back to McCrea, who misplayed the puck while seeing Benjamin Solin come out of the Harvard box over his shoulder to end the 5-on-3 opportunity. But McCrea was able to regain his composure and keep the puck in the Harvard zone by just a matter of millimeters.
Then, some strong play by Starrett, freshman Morgan Barron and sophomore Jeff Malott deep in the Harvard end ultimately gave Barron the puck alone, searching for the open man while behind the Harvard net. Barron looked up to see a wide-open McCrea creeping toward the goal mount, howling and slamming his stick on the ice demanding a pass.
Barron obliged. McCrea didn’t miss.
“I saw that there was not much time left so I decided to sneak in between the hash marks,” McCrea said. “Morgan gave me a great play and I was able to find the space in the low blocker.”
In a game that featured fish, and then a slew of goals, it was the storybook ending this game and the sold-out Lynah crowd of 4,267 deserved. It was also Cornell’s first win over Harvard in its last seven tries, with the last win coming back when the team’s current seniors were freshmen.
And like Saturday night, that last win in January of 2015 was a 3-2 decision, with Cornell’s game-winning goal also coming in the final minute.
“They are obviously very excited,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said about his team, which remains the last undefeated squad in the nation. “How could they not be?”
The guys will remember [these] kinds of games,” Schafer added. “That’s why there’s such a big rivalry — the games are always like that.”
Harvard got off to the quick start, opening the game’s scoring 6:03 into the first period after a defensive breakdown in the Red’s defensive end led to a brutal turnover and a gimme goal for Henry Bowlby. It was the first goal that got past Cornell freshman goalie Matt Galajda all weekend.
The Crimson would strike again just under 10 minutes later after a scrum on top of Galajda eventually pushed the puck to an open Ty Pelton-Byce. Galajda, who seemingly had the entirety of the ice’s skaters apart from Pelton-Byce on top of him, had no shot of reestablishing himself to make the save. The goal was reviewed, but the result was to the disdain of Lynah.
“We had to make some adjustments,” Schafer said about his team’s performance after going down 2-0. “They made us play the kind of game that we didn’t want to play tonight, and it took us a while to get going”
Facing the real threat of heading into the locker room down a pair, sophomore defenseman Yanni Kaldis erased that worry on the power play, rocketing a shot from the top of the circles past Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen, who was unbeatable until that point.
Using the momentum of Kaldis’ goal, Jeff Malott came right out of the gates in the second period to tie things up at two. Just over a minute played into the middle frame, the sophomore collected the puck at his own blue line and didn’t stop until he had powered his way through the Crimson defense and deked past Madsen.
Harvard’s two-goal lead had vanished within a span of 119 seconds of game time.
“That was huge,” Malott said, referring to his and Kaldis’ goal creating the succinct swing in momentum. “[Madsen] was standing on his head. We were peppering him with shots but it didn’t seem like we could get anything through until Yanni shot from the point there.”
After that point, the teams combined for 10 penalties, but solid play from each netminder kept opposing offenses from finding twine. That is, until McCrea teed up.