ALBANY, N.Y. — Sometimes you do get a second chance in life.
Harvard’s Kevin Du, stymied on his first breakaway of the game, connected on his second to deliver a 4-3 double-overtime victory to the Crimson over the Colgate Raiders in the ECACHL semifinals. Du and his team advance to the championship game for the fourth straight season and will face a familiar opponent, Cornell, Saturday evening.
“I’m real proud of our guys,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “They persevered. It was certainly an exciting finish — we felt vindicated.
“It wasn’t pretty from a coach’s perspective, but I’ll take it — I guess this blows apart the theory that overtime goals are ugly.”
“It’s pretty obvious that we were pretty evenly matched,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “There was nothing I was going to be able to say to the team that would have made them feel better.”
The Crimson (21-8-3) opened the scoring at 6:38 of the second period while on their third power play of the contest. Leading scorer Tom Cavanagh picked up the puck in neutral ice and fired a pass across the red line to defenseman Tom Walsh. The junior streaked down the wing and into the Raiders’ zone where he centered the puck to classmate Dan Murphy who one-timed a shot from the slot through the legs of netminder Steve Silverthorn.
The Crimson looked to increase their lead less than four minutes later when Du exited the penalty box and skated in alone against Silverthorn. The sophomore made a quick move to his backhand, but Silverthorn was up to the task, sticking out his right pad and making the save.
After an uneventful second period, Colgate (24-10-3) wasted little time pulling even in the third as junior Jon Smyth struck just 27 seconds into the frame. Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris made the initial save on Darryl McKinnon’s shot, but couldn’t control the rebound. That allowed Smyth to jam home the puck inside the right post and pump some life into his team.
But the game soon reverted back into a plodding, at times sloppy, exchange. That is until the clock ticked down to the final four minutes of the stanza.
The Crimson’s Charlie Johnson started the free-for-all when he knocked in a loose puck in front of Silverthorn to give the Harvard a 2-1 lead at 16:01. The Raiders, though, responded 45 seconds later to tie the score on a lucky bounce.
When senior Adam Mitchell moved the puck over to Joey Mormina at the high slot near the Crimson blueline, it allowed the defenseman to tee up a blast that Grumet-Morris stopped. The puck deflected into the air, however, and over the shoulder of the goaltender before bouncing into the net behind him to tie the game at two.
“The season was on the line,” said Mormina. “We had to step up in the third period. The first goal was just a lucky bounce off sticks.”
Undaunted, Harvard regained the lead, 3-2, on an excellent individual effort by Cavanagh. The senior came across the Colgate blueline with two Raiders strapped to his back, but managed to get a shot off on Silverthorn. The rebound came back out into the slot where Cavanagh and a Raiders’ defender slid into the net, taking Silverthorn and the puck with them.
It was called a goal immediately by assistant referee Chip MacDonald, who was right on top of the play, but the game was delayed for several minutes while officials looked at the instant replay. Eventually, all parties agreed with the on ice call and the goal, at 18:03, stood.
“[Referee] Alex Dell did absolutely the right thing,” Vaughan remarked. “He go the thumbs up, but wanted to make certain he got the call right.”
It appeared to be the final momentum swing, but Colgate had something else in mind. Once again, Mormina came up huge, taking a pass from McKinnon and one-timing a shot from the bottom of the right circle by Grumet-Morris to tie the score at three at 18:39.
“I’ve had some teams with some big comebacks,” Vaughan said, “but this was special. It took a lot out of our team tonight.”
“With four goals in the final three minutes,” explained Grumet-Morris, “there was a great sense of urgency. There were great plays by our side and great plays by their side.”
“We weren’t happy with the way the game ended,” said Crimson defenseman Ryan Lannon, “giving up the lead like that. You never want to do that.
“[But] the mood was light in the locker room. We had the experience of being there before.”
Once the final 1:21 of regulation ticked away, it was on to the first extra session and a return to the slow, methodical action that dominated most of the night. The teams combined for 14 shots, but precious few posed any real threat. In the meantime, fatigue was starting to set in.
“It’s tough not to get tired,” admitted Lannon. “Guys were cramping up between periods. [But] you do what it takes to get it done.”
“Late in the game,” Vaughan said, “we were juggling lines. We had to. Guys were cramping up.”
The second overtime followed a similar pattern and it seemed that the contest was destined for a sixth period until Lannon’s beautiful pass found Du alone at the Colgate blueline. From there, it was a rematch of the first period. This time Du stayed on his forehand and beat Silverthorn for the winner at 16:01.
“It was a beautiful pass,” explained Du. “Earlier in the game, he made a really nice save when I went on the backhand. This time I tried the forehand.”
For Colgate, they will face Vermont in the Third-Place game with an NCAA bid likely on the line.
“We just have to let [the loss] go,” said Silverthorn. “The season is tomorrow. We make the NCAA tournament if we win. That’s all that matters right now.”
Grumet-Morris finished the game with 46 saves to Silverthorn’s 47. The Crimson was 1-for-6 on the power play, while the Raiders were 0-for-6.