For an intensive, play-by-play recap of the loss to Harvard, click here.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It was that kind of night for Cornell men’s hockey.
Not Friday night, when the team used a 21-shot first period and four goals to cruise by Union. Nor was it a night like Clarkson game one, where the Red was blown out 6-2, and it looked like a NCAA bid might be in limbo.
Cornell’s 4-1 loss to Harvard in the ECAC championship match was one of those nights that simply make you scratch your head and wonder what the team from Ithaca did to upset the supernatural powers that govern the sport of hockey.
Every sequence, bad bounce after bad bounce seemed to plague the Red, certainly not helped by the stellar play of Crimson goaltender Merrick Madsen.
“The game can be cruel like that sometimes,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “But bottom line they capitalized on their scoring chances and we didn’t.”
With three minutes played in the third, and Cornell already facing a 2-0 deficit, Harvard defenseman Wiley Sherman sent an innocuous dump into the Red’s end, and Cornell senior goalie Mitch Gillam went through the routine motions to collect it behind his net.
But a bizarre bounce on the glass resulted in the puck creeping out in front of the net, only to find the stick of Crimson forward Michael Floodstrand. With Gillam out of position, Floodstrand — goalless to this point all season — sent the no-doubter over a sliding Holden Anderson to stifle solid Cornell pressure and get his team up three.
Bounces like that, along with the tournament’s most outstanding player in Madsen making 25 of 26 saves in his team’s win, was the Red’s downfall. Cornell consistently threw a flurry of shots at Madsen, but the finalist for the ECAC’s top goalie award kept his team on top all night long.
“The kid made a couple great saves and they come down and fire one in,” Schafer said of Harvard’s ability to capitalize when necessary.
To go along with Madsen, Harvard swept every position on the all-tournament team but one. Cornell senior defenseman Patrick McCarron was given all-tournament honors at defense.
But no honors could have made Saturday’s loss more sweet. Harvard sophomore Ryan Donato netted two goals, and Luke Esposito added one more. The bounces went Harvard’s way, and the Crimson have taken all three matchups against the Red so far this season, scoring four goals in each contest.
“We didn’t capitalize on our scoring chances and they capitalized on theirs,” Schafer said. “That’s the way hockey is sometimes.”
Regardless of missing out on the program’s 13th Whitelaw Cup, it has not been a disappointment by any stretch of the word. Cornell was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the preseason polls, but fought off arduous road trips and key injuries to finish a respectable third in the ECAC come the regular season’s end.
“This is our expectation every year,” said senior captain and forward Jake Weidner. “Every single year we start doing what we need to do to get to the ECACs and move on to the NCAAs and try and win a national championship. We got here, and unfortunately we didn’t get the result we wanted, but proud of the guys in the room …. Wouldn’t trade the guys in the room for a different result.”
Cornell came out with a mission in the semifinals against Union, and accomplished its goal with a 4-1 win. The start of the finals matchup showcased a team much like the one that beat Union — fast, buzzing and sending everything towards the opposing netminder.
Then, disaster struck. Harvard entered the game with the No. 4 power play in the country, and though Cornell evaded the first crack of the Harvard man-advantage opportunity, the lethal special teams unit struck when Donato wristed a shot that just squeaked by Gillam to open the scoring 14:41 into the first.
Over 20 minutes passed before the next goal came, but it was not for a lack of effort. Senior forward Jeff Kubiak forced a turnover in the Harvard zone and utilized a curl and drag to create space. But, much like the story was the entirety of Saturday night, Madsen was there to make the stop.
Esposito tucked a backhanded effort by Gillam 16:08 into the second, and the Floodstrand breakdown came about 3:01 into the third. Donato’s second of the night — a laser from the middle of the zone on the power play — left Cornell in a 4-0 hole with just nine minutes remaining.
Freshman forward Jeff Malott was the lone Cornellian to catch Madsen off guard, but his tally came with 1:17 left in the game — far too late for a comeback.
Now, without a Whitelaw Cup to show, Cornell will head into a week of practice in anticipation of NCAAs without beating its archrival in Harvard in three tries so far during the 2016-17 season.
Cornell potentially could have helped its NCAA seeding with a win on Saturday, but the NCAA selection committee awarded Cornell a No. 3 seed. The Red will take on UMass-Lowell in the Northeast region in Manchester, N.H. Should Cornell win, the team will take on the winner of Notre Dame-Minnesota in the second round.
No matter the seeding, the team will have to shake off this loss before the quest for the ultimate prize of a NCAA championship begins.
“[We have to] get back to the hotel tonight and try to leave it at the rink,” Weidner said. “[We’ll] turn the page and try and focus on next week.”