ALBANY, N.Y. – After being a pillar for the men’s hockey team’s run to the ECACHL conference finals, Cornell, which boasted the nation’s second-best penalty kill, wilted to a ruthless Harvard power play on March 18 at the Pepsi Arena.
The fourth-seeded Crimson scored three of its five extra-man goals in the first period, paving the way for a 6-2 win over the third-seeded Red, thus giving Harvard an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
It is the fourth time in five years the two sides had played each other in the final. However, unlike last year in – in which the Red (21-8-4) earned a 3-1 victory – Harvard (21-11-2) came out strong from the start, dominating its Ivy rival en route to its eighth ECACHL title. Cornell struggled mightily on the power play, going 0-for-8.
“I felt that when the game was 5-on-5, we really used our speed to our advantage,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “Our power play came up big and obviously, our penalty kill did a good job too.”
The Crimson was on fire right as the puck dropped. Coming off a 10-1 drubbing over Dartmouth in Friday’s semifinals, Harvard took advantage of its first power play after freshman Michael Kennedy was sent to the box for interference. Crimson defenseman Dylan Reese took a shot from the point which went wide but caromed off the boards. The rebound went to an on-rushing Jimmy Fraser, who poked it home from close range past junior goaltender David McKee at the 4:30 mark.
The uninspired Red had few chances in the game’s first frame, as the first of its three shots on goal did not come until there was 11:23 left, when sophomore Topher Scott forced goaltender John Daigneau, who was named the championship’s MVP, to make an easy save.
“I thought [Harvard] played very well, did a great job on capitalizing on their opportunities when they came and their goaltender, Daigneau, obviously had a great night,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I tip my hat to their hockey team for their outstanding effort tonight.”
Harvard doubled its lead after it received a 1:36 5-on-3 power play when sophomore Sasha Pokulok and senior Daniel Pegoraro were given interference and hitting from behind penalties, respectively. With five seconds left on the two-man advantage, Reese received the puck at the top of the slot from Charlie Johnson and took a shot, which was deflected and trickled past a screened McKee. After its game against the Red, Harvard had scored 24 goals in three games.
“I’ve got to say, it was kind of a shock,” Harvard forward Dan Murphy said about the amount of offense his team had generated. “We just kept it simple tonight and we were able to get shots to the net and a bunch of them were rebound goals. I give credit to a bunch of the other guys who got the puck to the net.”
Lack of discipline again haunted the Red later in the period after junior Byron Bitz was handed a charging penalty with 56.4 seconds left in the first. On the ensuing power play, Fraser took a shot from the point that was deflected by McKee. The rebound went to Brian McCafferty, who again tried to get his attempt on net. Eventually, the puck bounced across the crease to Murphy, who had no trouble stuffing in his 17th goal of the season from the right side of the net.
After the first intermission, Cornell came out more determined. The Red’s best scoring chance up to that point came when, on its fourth power play of the night with less than nine minutes left in the second, the puck went to Bitz, who was located by the left post and had a wide-open shot on goal. But, he couldn’t get his stick on it and the opportunity went awry.
Finally, the Red got the spark it needed for a potential comeback. Junior Mitch Carefoot intercepted a Harvard pass in center ice and passed it to a streaking Kennedy, who only had Daigneau to beat. Kennedy skated at the netminder and went stick side, beating the Harvard goaltender to make the score 3-1 at the 14:10 mark.
Less than 4:30 later, Cornell struck again. After Pegoraro won a draw on the left faceoff circle, Pokulok picked up the puck and passed it to O’Byrne at the point, who rifled it past Daigneau.
However, Harvard’s extra-man unit came back to haunt the Red at the end of the frame. With sophomore Doug Krantz in the box for hooking, the Crimson went on its seventh power play of the night and an unmarked Fraser scored his second marker of the evening with 56.9 seconds remaining in the period, backhanding the puck past McKee off a faceoff won by Murphy, pushing Harvard’s lead back to two.
“That was a tough one to swallow. The 4-2 goal was to me, the turning point of the game,” Schafer said.
Although threatening at times, Cornell could not make a dent on the scoreboard off the three power-play opportunities it had during the final frame.
“We had our chances tonight and the Harvard goalie stepped up and made some big saves,” O’Byrne said. “We just didn’t get bounces tonight and unfortunately, it wasn’t clicking like we wanted to do, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Meanwhile, in some cases, such as in the Crimson’s fifth goal, the bounces literally went Harvard’s way. After Jon Gleed received two minutes for interference at the 5:36 mark in the third, Fraser dumped the puck into the zone from center ice. McKee went to control the puck, but it took a strange bounce off the boards and goal and went into the path of Murphy, whose second attempt after McKee’s initial save on a gaping net made the score 5-2.
“It was a long night, and some nights, things go well and some nights, they don’t. Tonight was a night when they didn’t go well,” Schafer said.
Nothing went the Red’s way on special teams. Less than three minutes after Harvard’s fifth goal, the Red was again short-handed and junior Mark McCutcheon one-timed it from the slot, but Daigneau made a spectacular glove save to deny the forward.
Harvard’s Kevin Du compounded the Red’s misery minutes later when he scored the Crimson’s sixth, prompting Schafer to pull McKee for senior Louis Chabot.
Cornell was missing senior Chris Abbott, who was injured in the Red’s 2-0 semifinal victory over Colgate on Friday.
“It had a huge impact. Probably the one area we couldn’t afford anyone was [at] centerman … but we’ve battled with injuries all year long and it’s not an excuse,” Schafer said. “Chris is a big part of our hockey team on faceoffs and taking care of the other team’s top lines.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Writer