HANOVER, N.H. — Few people actually saw it go in, but when the red light went on signifying Jamie Herrington’s game-winning goal with 1:01 left in overtime, the Thompson Arena crowd erupted and the Dartmouth players came streaming off the bench.
Dartmouth and seventh-ranked Cornell played one of the great ECAC games of the season Friday night, putting on a fast-paced show from beginning to end in a game teeming with Ivy League title and ECAC playoff implications.
Both goaltenders were outstanding, but 63 minutes and 59 seconds after the opening faceoff, Herrington scored the game’s only goal, scooping up a rebound off a Chris Baldwin shot before chipping in his seventh of the season to give the Big Green (11-9-4, 8-5-4 ECAC) an exciting 1-0 triumph.
“I’m elated that we won,” Herrington said. “The puck was just sitting out in front. I don’t know how I got left alone, but I just walked in and put it in. It’s a great win for us, and I’m happy we got it.”
The game-winning play came to pass when the teams had a faceoff in the left circle in the Cornell zone.
Herrington won the draw and directed the puck back to P.J. Martin at the point. Martin sent a shot on net, which was saved.
Baldwin found the rebound and made another attempt that was saved, but Herrington found the puck and took the shot that sent the 3,432 fans into a frenzy.
“It was one of those goals where I didn’t really see it go in. I just saw the battle in front of the net,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet, who notched the 150th victory of his career.
“At that point, you just see the red light come on, and you’re just so jacked. I’m so happy for the guys. They played their butts off. It was a huge win.”
While a Cornell win would have guaranteed the Big Red its first Ivy title since 1997, Herrington’s overtime goal muddled the picture a bit.
Cornell now has 13 points with no Ivy games left to play, while Dartmouth has 11 points with games against Princeton and Yale next weekend.
Needing two points to share the crown or three to win it outright, the Big Green is on the doorstep of the program’s first Ivy championship since 1980.
“This was a big win in a lot of ways,” said Gaudet, who was a goaltender on Dartmouth’s last Ivy championship-winning team. “I think the Ivy possibilities are a great thing for us.”
Herrington’s game-winner came after a sterling performance by both goaltenders. Cornell’s Matt Underhill made 20 saves before surrendering the deciding goal, including nine stops in a Dartmouth-dominated first period.
Dartmouth’s Nick Boucher, meantime, made 34 saves in his first shutout since Feb. 9, 2001, shutting down a dangerous Cornell offense that ranks first in the ECAC and 12th in the nation with 3.48 goals per game.
For Boucher, who struggled early in the season, the performance was one of the best of his career.
“This is definitely the best game I’ve played this year,” said Boucher, a junior. “I can think of a couple other good ones in my career, but to get a shutout on 34 shots, this definitely ranks up there in the Top 5.”
Despite the loss, the Big Red still sports an impressive 17-6-1 record (13-3-1 ECAC) and seem likely to win its first ECAC regular-season title since the 1972-73 season.
Cornell which came to Hanover riding an eight-game winning streak – its last loss was to Dartmouth, 5-3 on Jan. 12 in Ithaca – is in first place with 27 points, six ahead of Clarkson and seven in front of Colgate, Harvard and Dartmouth.
“Things like this happen,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. “We still have our goals in mind of clinching home ice, and going to Lake Placid and winning. If you had told me a month-and-a-half ago if we’d go 8-1 over the next nine games, I would be pretty happy.”
Despite putting the loss in perspective, Schafer was visibly frustrated that his squad could not finish its many chances.
Some of the visitors’ best opportunities came in the second period, when they outshot Dartmouth, 14-5, and did not allow so much as a Big Green attempt — wide, blocked, or otherwise — until the 9:10 mark.
Cornell had three unsuccessful power plays in the middle frame, and nearly scored late in the period when Hobey Baker Award candidates Doug Murray and Stephen Baby each took shots from just outside the crease that Boucher somehow managed to track down.
“You could call it a goaltenders’ duel, but I thought both teams were piss poor on their ability to finish tonight,” Schafer said. “I was especially disappointed with our guys. We had opportunities around the net that we squandered. Both teams had great chances, but those were washed away but the inability to finish.”
With this win, the Big Green finished the regular-season series with Cornell with two wins and no losses, an impressive feat against a Big Red squad that has been nationally ranked for 14 consecutive weeks.
“I think our success against them is a function of their team as well as ours,” Herrington said. “They’re always nationally ranked and always a formidable opponent. I think our guys get excited to play teams that are good because we want to come out and show that we are just as skilled, and have just as much talent and determination as those teams.”
Schafer said that despite the two regular-season losses, the Big Red would not be afraid to face the Big Green in the playoffs.
“I’d have no problem facing them in the playoffs,” Schafer said. “In my first year when we won the ECAC title, we lost both games to a team and then ended up beating them in the playoffs.”
Both teams return to action Saturday night. Dartmouth hosts Colgate, while Cornell heads up Interstate 89 to face lowly Vermont.
Note: Before the game, Dartmouth senior Dan Casella was honored in recognition of being a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. Casella received a plaque and a hearty handshake at center ice from a trustee of the Hockey Humanitarian Foundation.