CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In one night Cornell achieved the two things most satisfying to any Big Red squad: beating Harvard and taking over first place of the ECAC.
No. 15 Cornell (11-6-4, 9-3-2) scored two goals in the first period and hung on for dear life in the third to leapfrog past Harvard (10-9-1, 9-5-1) into the top spot of the ECAC, 2-1, in front of a completely sold old Bright Hockey Center Saturday night.
The win gave the Big Red a one point lead in the standings over the arch-rival Crimson while still having played one fewer game than Harvard and it sent the visiting team’s fans-a little more than half the crowd-home happy. Cornell swept the weekend, beating Brown, 2-1 on Friday, in overtime.
“It was a good win for us,” Cornell Coach Mike Shafer said. “I thought the first period was kind of even, and we were fortunate to have the two goal lead. After they scored in the third, Harvard had the momentum for about three or four minutes, but we weathered the storm and didn’t give them much after that.”
Brian McMeekin started the surprising two goal first period for Cornell with a rare power play goal against the Crimson. Star sophomore forward Stephen Baby took a shot which McMeekin deflected from the top of the crease just inside the right post at 4:02.
The Big Red increased its advantage at 12:58 when freshman Jason Kuczmanski stole the puck from Harvard defensman Tim Stay and rifled a shot over goaltender Oli Jonas’ shoulder for a 2-0 lead.
The goal was Kuczmanski’s first of his career and the rookie was only playing because of injuries to the four of the Big Red’s best including Matt MacRae and Shane Palahicky.
“We had a lot of guys out and we look forward to getting them back,” Shafer said. “But one of the guys who hadn’t played all year for us steps into the lineup and gets a goal for us. It was a weird kind of game for sure.”
Most of the rest of the game was a defensive struggle as Harvard tried to penetrate the large Cornell blueliners, but the Crimson could not convert on the few chances it did have. The Big Red outshot Harvard, 14-5 in the scoreless second period and 36-24 for the game.
Sophomore Dominic Moore put Harvard on the board at 6:53 of the third period when he stole the puck from Mark McRae in the Cornell zone as McRrae tried to breakout to start up a power play. Moore walked in on goalie Matt Underhill and beat him on the backhand to narrow Cornell’s lead to one.
Harvard was enegerized by Moore’s goal and started sending shots in on Underhill. Freshman Tyler Kolarik in particular had a number of prime scoring opportunites in the third period, including a three-shot series in the final minute as Harvard hounded for the equalizer.
The Crimson, however, had difficulty finishing its chances all game long. Captain Steve Moore had a golden chance to notch one with the final ten seconds of the second period as he took the puck on the doorstep, but with time to pick his spot, but he ended up shooting it right at Underhill’s pads, who made 23 saves on the night. His counterpart, Oli Jonas, turned aside 34.
“I thought the biggest difference in the game was that we didn’t finish our chances,” Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “I think in the third period we had four two-on-ones and didn’t get a shot off. We had our chances, but didn’t capitalize.”
The game was an intense, physical contest with golden scoring chances few and far between for both clubs. Harvrd received its best chance to tie up the contest with a power play at 12:35. Baby drilled Blair Barlow into the boards. Junior Kyle Clark took exception to the hit and started wailing on Baby in a pseudo fight between the two heavyweights.
Harvard went 0-for-5 on the power play while Cornell was 1-for-5. Dominic Moore’s shorthanded goal gave him two shorthanded tallies on the weekend and kept Harvard a +1 down a man.
The victory extended Cornell’s road dominance over Harvard as the Crimson hasn’t successfully defended its home ice against the Big Red since 1994. The crowd for the contest has, of late, been heavily in the favor of the visitors, but the Crimson’s success this year made it a standing-room only affair with plenty of rooters for the home team.
“It was a great college hockey atmosphere,” Mazzoleni said. “It’s a great rivalry and the fans were treated to an exciting hockey game.”