Two shades of carmine met at the Bright Hockey Center Friday night, with the ECAC lead at stake.
The sellout crowd sure got its money’s worth.
Conference-leading Cornell was outshot 28-19 over two periods, and was outscored 3-1, as Harvard gradually picked up its game and controlled the last 20 minutes.
It’s too bad for Harvard (16-8-1, 14-4-0) that hockey games are a bit more than 40 minutes long, because Cornell (20-4-1, 15-2-1 ECAC) dominated the Crimson in the first frame, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and eventually escaping Bright with a hard-fought 4-3 win.
“I thought that it was a great hockey game between two great teams,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. ” I thought we carried the momentum early on and they carried the momentum in the later part of the hockey game.”
“That’s the way you gotta play to beat them, you gotta play three periods,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “You can’t play two periods, and you can’t spot two power-play goals. You do that and you don’t deserve to win, and we didn’t deserve to win.”
Much of the difficulty for Harvard arose from having to try to kill off a penalty mere seconds into the game, a development that left the Crimson looking flat immediately off the drop of the puck.
“Definitely we had a little more jump right off the bat, and we got a power play right off the bat. It helps to get one so early into the game, it takes a little life out of them,” said Cornell’s Ryan Vesce.
That power play came when, all of 20 seconds into the contest, Harvard defenseman Noah Welch was whistled for high sticking. And while Vesce might be right that the penalty took the life out of Harvard, more likely it was Cornell’s goal 11 seconds later that really sucked the air out of the Crimson and its fans.
Vesce scored the game’s first goal, tapping in the rebound off of a Doug Murray shot from the point.
Harvard took another penalty at 3:27, this time from defenseman Peter Hafner for boarding. Again the Big Red made the Crimson pay, controlling the puck in the zone before winger Sam Paolini deflected in a blast by Stephen Baby, and Cornell found itself with a comfortable cushion.
“The tone of the game was set at the beginning when we spotted them two power-play goals,” Mazzoleni said. “You can’t come out of the blocks and give up two power-play goals like that.”
Cornell scored another close-range tally at 8:34 of the first, by Dan Pegoraro, prompting Mazzoleni to call his timeout in an attempt to rally the troops.
Out of the timeout, Harvard was able to staunch the bleeding and hold the deficit at three entering the second.
The start of the second period was a world apart from the first, and Harvard marked the board for the first time at 10:55 when Crimson captain Dominic Moore fed the puck to linemate Dennis Packard, who wristed a quick shot from the top of the circle past Cornell goaltender Dave LeNeveu.
“You need to take [the deficit] one goal at a time,” Moore said. “That’s what we did; we didn’t panic, we didn’t try to do too much. We knew once we got our chance we’d capitalize, and that’s what we did.”
Moore helped the Crimson capitalize on Cornell’s only transgression of the game at 14:45 of the second. With winger Matt Moulson in the bin for holding the stick, Moore found Tim Pettit alone at the right faceoff circle, and Pettit blasted the puck by LeNeveu to pull the Crimson within one.
Harvard had control of the game with five minutes to play in the second and looked sure to tie it up until Baby brushed off Harvard’s defense along the low boards. Baby fed a pass right in front and the Big Red charged the net hard. Crimson goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris made two saves off close-range shots before Vesce poked home the eventual game winner.
“Stephen Baby is a load down low,” Mazzoleni said. “He made the play [on Vesce’s game-winning goal] by beating us off the wall. I think they made one or two jabs at it, and Vesce put it in.”
That goal put Cornell up 4-2 heading into the final period. The start of the third was much like the start of the second, with Harvard putting pressure on Cornell.
Following a neutral-zone turnover, Andrew Lederman fed Pettit, who fired a hard slapshot that LeNeveu saved. The rebound, however, dribbled slowly up the middle of the ice and was found by Tom Cavanagh. Cavanagh shot quickly before LeNeveu could reposition himself, and the Crimson were again within one.
The third period was back and forth most of the way, with each team having quality scoring chances. The Crimson got the better of the play, outshooting the Big Red 15-7, but LeNeveu, the nation’s leading goalie, was equal to the challenge, making numerous stops from in close.
He stopped 30 shots in the victory, while Grumet-Morris managed to stop 27 of 31 in the loss.
The win put Cornell three points up on the Crimson with each having four games left to play. But both teams agreed that they will likely meet again in the ECAC playoffs.
“We’ll see Cornell again, there’s no question about it,” Mazzoleni said.