LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It was a hellish climax to what had become a dream-like ECAC season for the men’s hockey team. A bitter 4-3 loss in double overtime in the conference tournament championship game here last Saturday — to Harvard, no less.
After 96:11, the Crimson’s Tyler Kolarik blasted a slap shot from just inside the blue line, beating Cornell senior netminder Matt Underhill and ending the longest championship game in ECAC history.
“I just put it to the net with everything I had,” Kolarik described. “I think I caught Matt Underhill off guard.”
For the Red — the conference regular season champion — the ECAC tournament crown had been a season-long goal. Consequently, the result was a crushing blow.
For the second consecutive year, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and his squad were left to wallow in the less than satisfying reward of a second-place trophy. (Last season, the Red lost in the final to St. Lawrence, 3-1.)
“Words don’t explain obviously what the guys are feeling in the locker room,” Schafer said. “It’s not the storybook ending that we’d like, but we’ve got to move on.”
Unlike last year, Cornell had an opportunity to extend its season — in the NCAAs. Joining the Red there was Harvard, which used a picture-perfect neutral zone trap to confound the Cornell offense. On an Olympic ice surface much wider than Lynah Rink, Harvard took advantage of its superior size and clogged the Red’s traffic lanes.
“We played our game to a tee out here,” Crimson head coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “We executed our game plan by trying to stretch them out.”
According to Schafer, the Crimson’s strategy forced his team “to be a little more patient, which is probably not our strong point.”
And despite playing its third grueling overtime game in a row, Harvard also remained persistent on offense: the Crimson outshot Cornell 44-29.
“We attacked all night,” Mazzoleni said.
Though it couldn’t produce many quality scoring opportunities in the first period, Harvard’s offense nonetheless made itself a nuisance by maintaining the puck for long stretches in the Cornell zone. The Crimson did get on the board first, courtesy of Dominic Moore with 3:22 left in the period. But the Red answered less than a minute later on a breakaway by senior Krzysztof Wieckowski.
Momentum began to lean in Cornell’s favor just 42 seconds into the second period when junior assistant captain and Hobey Baker finalist Doug Murray fed classmate Sam Paolini in front of the net for a quick one-timer. The goal came on the power play.
After the Crimson knotted the game 2-2 at 7:01 of the second on a Tim Pettit shot, the Red tried to deliver another knockout blow. Following a great save by Underhill on Moore, sophomore Greg Hornby connected with junior Shane Palahicky near the net. Palahicky then beat Harvard goalie Dov Grumet-Morris to make it 3-2.
But, despite whatever fatigue they must have been suffering from, the Crimson players clawed their way back into the game.
“I think our legs were tired,” said Moore, “but our hearts weren’t tired.”
With just 15.9 seconds left in the second, Harvard leveled the contest, 3-3. The Crimson earned the goal with gritty work in its offensive zone during the last minute of play in the period, resulting in several shots sailing at Underhill’s cage. Pettit finally capitalized — his slapper from the point tied the contest just before intermission and left Cornell’s defense slumping on the ice in dejection.
As the third period and the two overtimes progressed, the wear and tear of Harvard’s three-game OT run became more and more obvious. The Crimson resigned itself to icing the puck rather than attacking the Red’s defense.
When Harvard did cross the red line in overtime, though, the Cornell defense showcased some of its best play of the year. Numerous times Murray was forced to dive on the ice to contain breakaway opportunities.
Though the game was clearly physical on both sides, the referees whistled only two penalties on each school. What seemed to be obvious clutching and grabbing infractions by the Crimson routinely went uncalled.
When asked about the officiating, Schafer could only respond, “No comment.”
Thanks to the title game upset, both Cornell and Harvard represented the ECAC in the NCAAs. And as horrifying a thought as that may be to Cornell fans, it can only benefit the image of the league.
Said Mazzoleni: “[Schafer] and I talked about it before playing in Ithaca earlier this year. He said that he sees Harvard and Cornell start to carry the torch for the ECAC.”
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj