PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It took 23 years and an extra 21 minutes and nine seconds, but Cornell is back in the Frozen Four.
Matt McRae hit the top corner on a sharp-angle shot 1:09 into double overtime to snap a 1-1 tie and send Cornell into the Frozen Four for the first time since 1980. Boston College gave the Big Red a tremendous scare, but in the end the top-ranked team in the NCAA Tournament won the East Regional Saturday afternoon at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Cornell co-captain Stephen Bby. “Our goal from day one is to win the national championship. There is nothing more exciting than to play in overtime for the chance to go to the Frozen Four.”
McRae was an unlikely hero, with only four goals and nine assists on the game, but his was a pure goal-scorer’s winner.
“I was coming across center ice with speed and caught the defenseman flat-footed,” McRae said. “I found a place to shoot and put it there. I caught the goalie cheating a little bit to the far side so I decided to put it near side. I took a shot on him at the end of the first overtime period and he cheated a little.
“Take the previous biggest goal of my career and multiply it by one billion.”
McRae’s goal prevented an upset and sets up an NCAA rematch in the semifinal game against New Hampshire on April 10.
“What a feeling,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “Since last year’s disappointment of losing to Harvard in the [ECAC tournament] championship and losing to UNH in the NCAA’s — it is now 365 days since losing to UNH — we’ve accomplished our goal of making it to the Frozen Four. It was a close, low-scoring game and we stayed the course.”
The hard-hitting contest had four goals reviewed by instant replay — only the second period goal by Boston College stood. It gave BC plenty to mull over as a potential game winner was disallowed with just 7:59 left in the third period.
The Eagles pinned the Big Red in their zone with a tough forecheck, allowing defenseman Peter Harrold to walk the puck on goal from the corner. Harrold banged the puck off the net and it lay just outside the crease, from where Stephen Gionta found the small gap between LeNeveu and the post. Harrold, however, had continued driving to the net and was ruled illegally in the crease.
“It was real difficult when the goal was disallowed,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “I was surprised that the play went upstairs. That was a hard part of the game for us … but the man was clearly in the crease.”
Cornell knew it dodged a bullet.
“We were hoping and praying for a second opinion,” McRae said.
Boston College battled the Big Red for the ninth-longest contest in NCAA tournament history. It eschewed conventional wisdom and took the physical play to Cornell, in a gambit to overcome the Big Red at their own game while sprinkling in their team speed. It created a hard-hitting game and the Eagles, like they did yesterday against Ohio State, elevated their own grittiness as the game progressed.
Winger Tony Voce nearly ended it in the first overtime, hitting the post on a slapshot from the point.
“I thought tonight was the best game we played all year,” York said. “From the goaltender to defense to forward. We played a big strong team and was able to use our body positioning to contain their size and strength.”
Cornell established its physical style of hockey early and it paid off at 10:05 of the first period with the game’s first goal. Ryan Vesce, who had a great tournament, especially on faceoffs, hustled to keep the puck in the zone and flew down the right-wing boards to the net. He made a quick head fake to linemate Matt Moulson in front of the net and roofed the puck top shelf.
Defenseman J.D. Forrest tied the game at 8:00 of the second period during a four-on-four. On a two-on-two rush, Tony Voce shot the puck and Cornell goaltender David LeNeveu kicked it out in front of the net. A Big Red defenseman tangled up Forrest, but the junior turned away and his right skate redirected the puck into the net.
After a lengthy review, Forrest’s redirect was determined to be innocent of intent.
“We didn’t expect to be able to bottle BC up like we have been able to do to other teams,” Schafer said. “We had points where we sustained pressure, but they are a great program with great conditioning and we didn’t expect them to be worn out where they couldn’t skate.”
During the second and third periods, the two squads alternated taking control of the game and not until midway through the first overtime did it appear that the momentum was tipping Cornell’s way — and still the Eagles had golden chances to win.
Boston College was 0-for-6 on the power play, failing to score on two five-on-three advantages.
“We have been in plenty of overtimes over the past couple of years,” said Boston College center Ben Eaves. “We’re pressing and then they’re pressing and all of a sudden it’s over. I feel bad for the four guys who will not get a chance to play for us again.”
When BC pressed, LeNeveu, whom Schafer pushed for the Hobey Baker Award after the game, held the fort making 26 saves. Kaltiainen, despite giving up the final goal, dispelled many personal demons in his 34-save performance, earning a spot on the All-Tournament team.
“After the Boston University [game, a 6-5 loss in the HEA tournament, Kaltiainen] made a decision to just stop the puck,” Eaves said. “He was unbelievable for us.”
Cornell now has the opportunity to earn its third national championship, and it will be a favorite in Buffalo.
“What we did best this weekend was, we expected to win,” Schafer said. “We came into the tournament expecting to have success … you work so hard all year to be in this point and our guys laid it all on the line.”