ALBANY, N.Y. — Senior defenseman Charlie Cook scored two power-play goals to lead the Cornell Big Red to its second ECACHL Championship in the last three years, defeating the Harvard Crimson 3-1.
“It was a lot less nerve-racking than the last time we won one here,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, referring to the Big Red’s title win against Harvard in overtime in 2003.
“It was a great win — but there is unfinished business for us as a hockey team. Losing in the Frozen Four two years ago and last year [a quarterfinal loss] has driven this team.”
“Do I think we played our best game?,” Harvard coach Ted Donato asked. “Not by a long shot. But I think, ultimately, you have to give Cornell a lot of credit. They outplayed us. They deserved to win.
“Sometimes at the end of a game you’ve go to say, ‘Hey, we got outplayed.’ And tonight was one of those nights — I wish them the best of luck in the NCAA tournament.”
Harvard (20-9-3) connected on the power play first on this night when sophomore Dylan Reese floated the puck from the right post through a screen and by Cornell’s David McKee at 18:23. It was a big goal for the Crimson, allowing them to take a bit of momentum into the locker room.
Unfortunately for Harvard, the next 40 minutes were all about the Big Red.
“I thought the first period went the way we wanted,” explained Donato. “The second and third period, they did what they wanted to do.”
Said Schafer, “When we were down 1-0 we never lost focus. Our seniors have led from day one. They got the job done.”
Cornell (26-4-3) played its typically dominating second period, outshooting its opponent 14-2 and not allowing a Crimson shot to reach McKee until the 12:09 mark. By that point, the Big Red had taken a 2-1 lead.
“I don’t know,” answered Schafer when asked why it is that his team dominates the middle frame, “but if we could bottle it, we’d move it to the first and third periods.”
“We’re a team that likes to set the tone in the first period,” said senior Paul Varteressian. “It carries over.”
The tying marker came at 9:35 just as a penalty to Cornell’s Daniel Pegoraro had expired. Varteressian blocked Noah Welch’s shot from the point and the puck found its way to Pegoraro, who had just come out of the box.
The junior skated down the right side of the ice one-on-one against Welch, waiting for Varteressian to catch up and make it a two-on-one before centering the puck for a one-timer that eluded Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris. It was Varteressian’s fourth of the season and it was aided by the inability of tired Crimson forwards to catch up.
“I was kind of out of gas,” admitted Varteressian, “but you don’t get too many two-on-one chances against Harvard. I went to the net as hard as possible.
“I don’t get too many opportunities like that. I shot the puck when it hit my stick.”
Welch took the blame for the goal.
“I thought I played it well just up until the last second there,” said the Crimson captain. “I thought our backchecker was there and I thought I actually turned it into a one-on-one. I gave the guy the pass across, which is not my job. I should let Dov take the shooter, so I take responsibility for that goal.
“Dov almost had it — he almost made a great save. But I can’t let that pass go by.”
Harvard found itself shorthanded 27 seconds later when rookie Tyler Magura was whistled for hooking. It didn’t take long for Cornell’s power play unit — tops in the nation — to give its club the lead.
Leading scorer Matt Moulson moved the puck to Cook, who teed up a blast from the blueline that Grumet-Morris never saw.
“All year long,” said Cook, “different guys have stepped up at different times.”
Tonight was his night.
Cook struck again on the power play — 6:35 into the third period — when he repeated his earlier performance with a slapshot from the blueline that got by a screened Harvard netminder. Cook’s second of the game rounded out the scoring and assured the Big Red of their 11th ECACHL tournament championship.
“We had a conversation this summer,” said Schafer about Cook. “I told him, ‘If you’re not going to shoot it, you’re not going to be up there.’
“He worked hard on shooting the puck this summer. He’s probably the most detail-oriented player I’ve ever coached.”
“I definitely remember that conversation,” said Cook with a laugh. “My focus this summer was to work on one-timers and work on my shot. It definitely paid off.”
Grumet-Morris made 29 saves in a losing effort, while McKee made 17 stops to help Cornell improve to 4-1 against Harvard in title tilts. Both teams will be waiting to see if they will be skating in next weekend’s NCAA tourney. The seedings for the tournament will be announced Sunday.