CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Needing a win and some help to guarantee a first-round bye, Cornell took to the ice Saturday night at Harvard in what seemed like a must-win game. Despite dropping a 3-1 decision to the Crimson, the Red, thanks to a Quinnipiac loss, stumbled into an all-important first-round bye accorded to the top-4 finishers in the ECACHL standings.
Sophomore Jimmy Fraser and junior Mike Taylor each had a goal and an assist for Harvard (12-15-2, 10-10-2 ECACHL), which will host Yale in the first round of the ECAC playoffs this weekend.
“Whether or not you get the bye, you begin the grind to get to Albany and the ECACs,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86, “There are a lot of different ways to get there. You just do whatever you have to do to move forward.”
Playing in front of a mostly pro-Red crowd, the two teams played a very even ly matched first period, with neither team finding the back of the net. In what would be a theme of the game, both goalies played exceptionally well. Freshman Ben Scrivens made 36 saves in the losing effort, while Crimson senior Justin Tobe stopped 26 shots for the win. It was a big night for Tobe, playing his last regular season game in front of a home crowd along with the rest of Harvard’s senior class.
“He was awesome. He was flat out awesome. I’m so happy for him,” said senior captain Mike Reese. “He has faced a lot of adversity this year and has been sharing time, but he played great this weekend. Especially as a senior when your career is winding down, it really means a lot.”
After junior Doug Krantz took a slashing penalty with 3:15 to go in the first, senior Dan Glover was sent to the box just 1:32 later, giving Harvard a 5-on-3. The Red was able to kill off Krantz’s penalty, but came under heavy fire from the Crimson. Senior Kevin Du put a tough shot on net from in close, after which junior Mike Taylor fired a shot that trickled through Scriven’s pads and lay in the crease before the play was ruled dead.
Led by the undersized but talented trio of freshmen Tony Romano and Justin Milo and junior Topher Scott, the Red came out firing in the second period and put heavy pressure on Harvard. The three quick forwards played very well together and seemed to energize the Red.
“That line generated, in my opinion, the majority of our offensive chances. They generated scoring chances for us, and when you do that you’re going to get goals,” Scrivens said. “Unfortunately they weren’t going in for them today, but if you keep playing like that you’re going to get a lot more goals.”
And unfortunately for the Red, it would be the Crimson who struck first. After senior captain Byron Bitz was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting from behind, Harvard went to work.
Reese circled around the net with the puck, skated up to the top of the left circle and let go a high wrister through traffic that eluded Scrivens and gave Harvard a 1-0 lead.
Bitz was forced to watch his team from the sidelines and afterwards the senior was visibly disappointed by his ejection.
“I went in on the forecheck and hit a guy. I was trying to create some energy for us, trying to get a couple of hits,” Bitz said. “I went into hit him and he turned a little bit and I didn’t slow up. I wanted to finish my check and hit him hard, but I couldn’t pull up in time and obviously, I deserved the penalty.”
Trailing 1-0 heading into the third period without its captain, the Red refused to give up. Assistant captain Scott stepped up his performance and the Red responded.
“I think Topher [Scott] stepped up tonight, big time. He wasn’t happy with how he played last night, and he is one of those guys, even at 5-5, who will go in there against guys who are 6-4 and outwork them for the puck,” Bitz said.
“I think he stepped up tonight.”“When the call against Bitz came, Topher [Scott] knew what he had to do. He stepped up and played a great game,” Scrivens said, “He was all over the ice, really leading us out there.”After Crimson freshman Chad Morin was ejected and given a five-minute major for headbutting, Fraser added to Harvard’s woes by falling on the puck in his own end and drawing a delay of game penalty, giving the Red a 5-on-3 advantage.
Shortly after a Schafer timeout, Scott won a faceoff and sent the puck back to senior Mitch Carefoot, who passed the puck along the point to classmate Mark McCutcheon who rifled a one-timer top-corner past Tobe to tie the game.
Harvard, however, did not take long to respond. Less than four minutes later, after Cornell failed to clear the puck out of its own end, Mike Taylor put a shot on Scrivens from in close that was stopped, but buried the rebound above the keeper’s shoulders to give the Crimson a 2-1 lead with 8:27 remaining.
“The rebound went off my right pad, and I thought I shuffled over and was in pretty good position to make the second save, but he put a really good shot above my shoulder,” Scrivens said. “I thought I might have gotten across, but when it’s that close, that’s just a great shot.”
Cornell was unable to generate any significant pressure down the stretch and Harvard would seal the deal with 1:30 to go, as Jimmy Fraser ripped a shot from the point that found its way through heavy traffic and into the back of the net.
The Red was forced to play the game with just five defenseman, and Schafer thought his team looked a little worse in the third period as a result. With sophomores Jared Seminoff and Taylor Davenport out, the injury on Friday to senior Kevin McLeod was devastating to the defensive unit.
“I liked our effort tonight and I was proud of our guys. We only had five defensemen dressed and I thought as the third went on we started to fatigue a little bit and make some mental mistakes, but guys grinded it out right to the very end and we had our opportunities,” Schafer said. “And that’s all you can expect from your hockey team is to come out and play hard. We faced a lot of adversity all year, and it can be tough with five defensemen against a team with great balance and skill up front.”
Cornell will now enjoy the bye and rest for the ECAC quarterfinals. The best of three series will be held from March 9 to 11.
“Going into the playoffs, there are some lessons you have to learn, and it’s probably better that this happened this weekend than later on,” Scrivens said. “We’ll take what we can from it. We did a lot of positive things and well try and build on that come playoff time.”