“Three-on-three sucks,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
Men’s hockey battled back and forth for sixty minutes with its bitter rival, but a fortunate bounce in overtime lifted No. 7 Harvard over Cornell.
After a turnover in Cornell’s offensive zone, Harvard’s Sean Farrell broke down the ice with nobody between him and sophomore goaltender Ian Shane. Lynah erupted as Shane came to the top of his crease and stopped Farrell’s wrist shot, but the puck shot up in the air and landed right behind Shane in the crease.
Farrell found the puck before Shane did and poked it in to give Harvard (8-1-1, 7-0 ECAC) a 2-1 victory.
The overtime outcome was a disappointment for Cornell (6-5, 4-3 ECAC) after sixty minutes of razor thin action, almost all of which occurred at even strength, against the highly talented Crimson.
“What a disappointing way [to lose]. It’s anticlimactic for the fans,” Schafer said. “It was a terrible way to finish. I’d love to see those two teams play five-on-five for another five minutes.”
While the teams appeared to be even matched when playing five-on-five, the Crimson had an edge in the three-on-three format. The extra space gave Harvard’s talented forwards room to create opportunities that were few and far between during regulation. Friday night was Cornell’s first overtime game of the year and Harvard’s third.
“We don’t practice three-on-three a whole lot,” Schafer said. “A couple guys stayed out longer than they should have.”
Losing in the somewhat flukey format stung for the Red after playing a very winnable game.
“I think at the end of the day if we were to capitalize on a couple more opportunities it could have been a different game,” said senior defenseman Travis Mitchell.
As it did in another high energy contest last weekend at Madison Square Garden, Cornell struck early.
The Red jumped in front just over two minutes into the first period on Mitchell’s shot from the point. Harvard’s Mitchell Gibson got a piece of his glove on the shot, but not enough to keep it out of the net.
“It’s definitely good to see our team get out to some early starts,” Mitchell said. “It was good to get the crowd in it early, I wish we capitalized on a couple more in the first 20 or 40 minutes.”
Cornell generated plenty of traffic in front of Gibson in the first two periods, but could not break open a two goal lead.
“We had great scoring chances in the second period to make it 2-0, but we didn’t capitalize,” Schafer said.
Instead, Harvard evened things up with a minute and a half left in the second period. Farrell deked senior forward Matt Stienburg and moved to the net. Shane made a pad save on his shot, but left the rebound right on the backdoor for Harvard’s Joe Miller, who easily converted to tie the game at 1-1.
“Great play by Sean Farrell, we don’t play him man on man and our guy reaches for the puck instead of finishing his check, and [Farrell] does that,” Schafer said. “That’s a huge mistake there late in the second period.”
The nifty move led to the first of what ended up being a two point night for the top Montreal Canadiens prospect and Team USA Olmypian.
The only penalty in the game was on freshman forward Winter Wallace immediately after Mitchell’s goal early in the first period. The officials declined to send anyone to the box, even as play got aggressive down the stretch of the game.
“Hooking, slashing and holding by both teams taking scoring chances away,” Schafer said. “I don’t even know what a penalty is anymore.”
The even strength action kept the Red from having to contend with Harvard’s elite special teams. The Crimson entered the night converting at 27 percent on the power play and 96.4 percent on the penalty kill, good for fifth and first in the country respectively.
Cornell will have a chance to head into the break on a high note when it hosts Dartmouth Saturday night.
“The fans were all fired up [tonight],” Schafer said. “Hopefully they come back here tomorrow night for Dartmouth and we finish this off the right way going into Christmas.”