LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — For almost a full extra period of hockey, Clarkson did everything in its power to advance to the finals of the ECAC Tournament — except score.
The Golden Knights peppered Harvard freshman goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris with 14 shots in overtime, but all the Crimson needed was a single rush to topple Clarkson in sudden death.
Harvard knocked the Golden Knights out of competition with a 3-2 victory when rookie center Tom Cavanaugh picked up the puck down low from classmate Brendan Bernakevitch and took it across to beat Clarkson junior netminder Mike Walsh strong-side. The goal propelled Harvard to a berth in the final at Lake Placid, an honor that has eluded the Crimson since its appearance against Cornell in the 1995-96 season.
“There was just a scramble along the boards, and [Bernakevitch] did a nice job on the forecheck,” Cavanaugh said. “We wanted to get it to the net in overtime, and I thought about shooting right away, but they were putting pressure one me. Then I just got as close as I could and shot it.”
Cavanaugh’s seventh notch of the season might have given some veteran Harvard hockey fans a bit of deja vu. Cavanaugh’s father lifted the Crimson to an 8-6 win over Clarkson in the semifinals of the 1968-69 ECAC tournament with a hat trick.
Friday’s matchup was one of the most thrilling contests of the year, and timely considering the rough patch the Crimson had endured since the exam break in January.
Despite posting a .500 conference record, Harvard had a meager 2-8-1 record at the close of the regular season, with two shutout wins over Vermont and Union, the only two teams excluded from this year’s playoffs. With a pair of victories against a surprisingly hot Brown squad, the Crimson has boosted its record to 14-14-4.
Harvard owned the first period of tonight’s contest, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically sluggish Clarkson squad. Junior center Dominic Moore, who netted his 12th tally of the season, lit the lamp only four minutes into the first period to gain the early advantage.
At 4:25, sophomore winger Rob Fried picked up a turnover at the Clarkson blue line and made a blind pass to junior center Dominic Moore in the slot. Moore swooped down to Walsh’s right and made a textbook wrist shot over Walsh’s shoulder to make it 1-0.
The Crimson continued to control momentum, using its much-improved defense to block quality shots from Clarkson, and held the shots Grumet-Morris faced to a mere five in the opening frame.
However, a fluke tally knotted the score at one apiece at 12:35 in the second stanza. Golden Knight winger Trevor Edwards headed an odd-man rush and launched a shot that clanged off the crossbar. Grumet-Morris was able to make the save on the rebound, but the third time was the charm for the sophomore winger. Edwards was able to regain control and batted home a loose puck over a sprawling Grumet-Morris.
Still, Harvard was able to prevent Clarkson from capitalizing on the momentum shift by killing a cross-checking penalty that junior center Brett Nowak was serving. Clarkson managed a handful of quality chances during the man-advantage, but Grumet-Morris and the rest of the Crimson defense stood on their heads to make the saves.
Clarkson flew out of the locker room in the final frame of play, but Harvard was still able to bang home an insurance tally less than four minutes in. Nowak slammed home a rebound past Walsh at 3:49 to give the Crimson the 2-1 lead.
Harvard sustained another few minutes of pressure, but the final 30 minutes changed the flow of the game, and one would have to credit Grumet-Morris for the win.
“Clarkson is one of the great college hockey programs,” Mazzoleni said. “We can’t take anything away from them. They gave us what we expected of them. Anything can happen in overtime.”
Grumet-Morris faced only 10 shots in the final frame, but no spectator would have believed that these Golden Knights were the least offensively-productive team in Clarkson history. Edwards led the charge with seven minutes remaining and attempted to stuff a couple of loose pucks past Grumet-Morris.
Only 30 seconds later, captain Kerry Ellis-Toddington tried to take advantage of the rookie goaltender with a bullet from the point that Grumet-Morris gloved like a pro, bringing back images of Harvard’s former goaltender and 2001 Ken Dryden Award winner, Oliver Jonas.
A minor penalty for too many men, served by freshman Andrew Lederman, gave Clarkson the power play that the Golden Knights needed to knot the score again and thrust the 2-2 game into overtime.
Poapst and O’Flaherty combined on a textbook play with just over five minutes to play to keep the Golden Knights in the game. At 14:31, Poapst came down the right wing and slid a perfect pass on to O’Flaherty’s stick in the low slot that O’Flaherty launched, five-hole, past Grumet-Morris.
“One of the keys to any great victory is goaltending, and we got that tonight,” Mazzoleni said. “[Grumet-Morris] made the big plays that he had to.”
In the 15 minutes of extra play, Clarkson dominated offensively, but it was Cavanaugh and Grumet-Morris who earned kudos. Cavanaugh notched his second game-winning tally of the season, while Grumet-Morris posted a career-high 39 saves.