CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard wasn’t supposed to win on Friday night against No. 11 Cornell. With Hobey Baker Award candidate Dominic Moore sitting out because of a game disqualification last weekend, starting goaltender Will Crothers battling an illness, and an undefeated Big Red team coming to town, things didn’t look good for the Crimson.
Thanks to some late-game heroics, though, the Crimson (2-2-1, 2-2-1 ECAC) skated off with an emotional 4-3 overtime victory before a sellout crowd of 2,776 at Bright Hockey Center.
“I’m very, very proud and happy for our team,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “We’ve gone through some adversity, but we played with tenacity and came out with a victory.
“I knew we would respond and they didn’t let me down.”
Junior center Brett Nowak potted the game-winner 1:14 into the extra frame after a mad scramble in front of Cornell goaltender Matt Underhill. Sophomore Tyler Kolarik began the flurry with a hard shot from the high slot that was followed up by pressure by Dennis Packard. Eventually, though, it was Nowak’s stick that found the puck and sent it across the goal line.
In that sense, persistence paid off for the Crimson.
“We talked all week about second-chance opportunities, especially against this team with such a good goalie,” Mazzoleni said.
Cornell coach Mike Schafer agreed that second-chance shots were a key for Harvard.
“Matt struggled all night controlling rebounds,” he said, “He wasn’t smothering the puck around the net, and that’s very unusual for him.”
Just as critical as Nowak’s game-winner for Harvard, though, was the goal that tied the game at 3-3.
With an empty Harvard net and the Cornell (4-1-0, 2-1-0 ECAC) faithful on their feet anticipating victory, freshman defenseman Noah Welch collected a pass above the left faceoff circle with under a minute remaining in regulation.
Welch coolly squared his body to Underhill and fired a blast just under the crossbar, sending the Bright Center crowd into a frenzy with just 40 seconds to play.
“I saw [Cornell defenseman Doug] Murray go down in front of the net, and he really likes to front you out,” said Welch. “So I used him as a screen.”
“That was a great play by Noah,” Mazzoleni said of the game-tying goal. “He showed tremendous poise. That was a big-time shot.”
Schafer was certainly not as pleased with the game’s final moments.
“This is a disappointment for our team. I don’t think we played exceptionally well,” Schafer said. “I can’t remember a Cornell hockey team squandering two leads like this. We gave them time and space. That’s not our style.”
Before Welch’s goal, though, it looked like the Big Red were playing the kind of hockey that helped them outscore their opponents by a 20-4 count going into the weekend.
With the game tied at two, Big Red center David Kozier sent a picture-perfect pass from the right faceoff circle across the ice to winger Denis Ladouceur, who was waiting right in front of the Harvard net. Ladouceur then banged it past Harvard goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris, a freshman making his first collegiate start, to give his team the lead 6:59 into the third.
Prior to that, the teams traded third-period tallies. Cornell’s Sam Paolini used both a fresh sheet of ice and man advantage to put the Big Red ahead 2-1 just 12 seconds into the frame. In a four-on-four situation a little less than two minutes later, though, Kolarik set up freshman Tom Cavanagh’s first collegiate goal to tie the game.
In Moore’s absence, Kolarik stepped up his play, recording three assists on the night.
“Losing Dom is a big hit,” Kolarik said. “The team knew that we had to pick up the slack.”
Harvard struck first in the game, taking a 1-0 advantage on sophomore forward Tim Pettit’s power-play tally — his fourth on the man advantage this year — at 16:07 of the first period.
Cornell then had the only goal in the second period, a blast from the right faceoff circle courtesy of senior center Krzystof Wieckowski at the 2:32 mark.
But behind all of the late-game heroics, Harvard’s biggest performance of the night was arguably turned in by Grumet-Morris, who seemed to gain more confidence with every passing save, of which he had 23.
“Dov did an exceptional job. I don’t know if he had a chance on any of those goals,” Mazzoleni said. “To step in the way he did was very impressive.”
Schafer shared in Mazzoleni’s praise. “I thought he played very well,” he said.
According to Mazzoleni, Grumet-Morris is slated to start on Saturday night against Colgate.
Underhill finished with 24 saves for Cornell.