ITHACA, N.Y. — ITHACA, N.Y. — While the feeling might be new for Harvard coach Ted Donato, his seniors must find the experience of losing at Lynah Rink all too familiar.
No. 12 Cornell dominated its archrival for two periods and earned a stalemate in the third, knocking off the Crimson for its fourth straight home win in the series, 2-0. The Big Red (3-0-0, 1-0-0 ECACHL) had Harvard (0-1-1, 0-1-1) on its heels just 75 seconds in, courtesy of a penalty from freshman forward Dave Watters, and cemented its position with a 1:45 two-man advantage less than five minutes later.
“Certainly putting ourselves behind the eight ball early on with a 5-on-3 on the road — it’s playing with fire,” Donato said.
Initially, at least, the Crimson didn’t get burned. Killing off all three infractions, Harvard was surviving, and, after drawing a power play with two minutes left in the first period, poised to seize the momentum.
But sloppy passing forced the Crimson to retreat from the Cornell zone to its own end line, where Mitch Carefoot forced a turnover from blueliner Tom Walsh that sent the two barreling into the boards behind the Harvard net. Carefoot flipped the puck out in front to Mike Knoepfli, who batted the feed past netminder Dov Grumet-Morris for the game winner at 19:10.
“Certainly we feel like we can recover from one goal,” Donato said. “But that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
“The first goal I think was the product of us using more guys on the penalty kill,” Big Red coach Mike Schafer said. “We’ve been practicing with a lot more people so we’re able — if the puck goes down — to get a little more pressure on the offensive zone instead of being a little more patient. We hadn’t scored a shorthanded goal in two years and now back-to-back weekends we’ve had one.”
Though the Crimson had a smattering of chances to open the second, Cornell’s pressure largely choked off Harvard’s offense and rendered goaltender David McKee, who recorded 17 saves on the night, a comfortable spectator.
Grumet-Morris, on the other hand, turned in a stellar performance in the losing effort, at times — particularly on the Big Red’s power plays — singlehandedly preventing the score from escalating out of control.
“Morris … I thought he played great,” Schafer said. “I thought time and time again he made big saves for them.”
But Grumet-Morris’ 34 saves — 14 on Cornell’s six power plays — couldn’t hold back the Big Red offense forever.
Down a man following an interference call on freshman defender Dave MacDonald at 11:52 in the second, the Crimson allowed Cornell to entrench itself inside the blue line. Ryan O’Byrne one-timed Daniel Pegoraro’s give through traffic and past the screened netminder for the first goal of his career.
“I think it’s pretty obvious it was special teams that was the difference in the game,” Grumet-Morris said. “The difference in the game was power play and penalty kill. Their penalty kill got a goal, their power play got a goal … 2-0 Cornell.”
Harvard’s offense improved relative to the Big Red defense in the third, gaining more frequent access to the Cornell zone and firing off two more shots than in either of the previous two periods. But the Crimson skaters, more often than not, found themselves without open ice to maneuver against the collectively larger Big Red.
And as the clock ticked down, frustration on the Harvard side — particularly on the part of the freshmen, exposed to the physical rivalry for the first time — began to mount. Extracurricular activity following the whistle steadily increased, capped by a roughing penalty for Watters.
“That’s Cornell hockey for you,” Carefoot said. “That’s what we’ve been working on.”
In conjunction with its psychological successes, the Big Red’s strong forecheck forced Harvard reaction far more frequently than it allowed the Crimson to dictate the attack.
“They’re very experienced at the blueline,” said Schafer, “but they had young forwards and I just thought we had good backside pressure on them all night for them to not do some of the offensive things that take time. I thought we took time away from them.”