For the fourth time in five years, the Cornell Big Red and the Harvard Crimson met in the ECACHL championship game. And unlike previous overtime nail-biters in 2002 and 2003, or last year’s competitive 3-1 Cornell win, this time the outcome was clear early in the third period.
Cornell had mounted a comeback from an early three-goal deficit; following a Harvard turnover near the Cornell blue line, the Big Red’s Michael Kennedy scooped up the puck, raced the length of the ice, and scored a pretty goal on a breakaway at 14:10 of the second to put Cornell on the board.
The Big Red then added a trademark goal just over four minutes later off the stick of defenseman Ryan O’Byrne. On a draw from the left faceoff circle, Daniel Pegoraro won the draw to defenseman Sasha Pokulok, who passed it back to the blue line and to the waiting O’Bryne.
He took the pass, held it briefly as he skated along the blue line towards center and allowed Cornell to get traffic in front of the Harvard net. Then O’Byrne let rip a hard slapshot that netminder John Daigneau could not see cleanly.
For the Harvard seniors, that goal must have looked familiar. That set play off the draw is a favorite from Cornell coach Mike Schafer’s playbook. And it was on just such a play in 2003 that Cornell’s Mark McRae tied the game with 33 seconds left, setting up Sam Paolini’s overtime game-winner.
“It was a great faceoff win by Daniel Pegoraro,” said Schafer. “And Ryan was able to find a seam on the shot.”
O’Byrne’s goal pulled Cornell within one at 3-2, and seemed to shift the momentum. The Big Red fans that made up the majority of the Pepsi Arena’s crowd had been silenced by Harvard’s three power play goals in the first period, but O’Byrne’s score at 18:36 brought the Lynah faithful to their feet.
They were soon silenced again as Doug Krantz was whistled for hooking at 18:59 and Harvard responded to the O’Byrne goal with its own power-play tally on the faceoff.
After both Harvard’s Jimmy Fraser and Cornell’s Daniel Pegoraro were tossed consecutively from the faceoff, Dan Murphy won the draw against Cam Abbott. The two were tied up and the puck was on the ice beneath them, when Murphy pivoted and kicked the puck toward Cornell goalie David McKee.
Fraser swooped in amidst traffic, got his stick on the puck, and sent it to the back of the net. That score — a mere four seconds after the Krantz penalty, and less than half a minute after O’Byrne’s goal — silenced the crowd and helped kill Cornell’s rally.
“That may have been the real turning point, that fourth goal,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “That turned the momentum around; that was a big goal for us.”
“That was a tough one to swallow — that 4-2 goal,” agreed Schafer. “To me, that was the turning point in the game.
“We had a lot of momentum going into the end of the period,” he continued. “We made a blunder … and they capitalized.”
It looked as though the momentum might swing back in Cornell’s direction as Alex Meintel was whistled for holding soon after the Fraser goal, but Harvard killed off the Big Red power play which bridged the second and third periods.
“Daigneau made some big saves,” Schafer said. “We had some good opportunities … but it’s a tough climb back.”
Cornell did have a number of chances, especially in the second and third periods. After being outshot 18-3 in the first period, the Big Red outshot the Crimson 18-11 over the final two frames. Cornell had a number of quality scoring chances on five power plays in the second and three in the third period, but Harvard’s penalty kill was equal to the challenge.
Harvard’s special teams were the key to the game; the Crimson converted on five of its 10 power plays, and all three of its first period goals came with the man-advantage. In turn, the penalty-killing unit held Cornell scoreless over eight power plays.
“Our power play came up big tonight,” Donato said. “Obviously our penalty kill did a good job, too.”
The Crimson added another power-play goal and an even-strength score in the third to put the game out of reach. The win gave Harvard the Whitelaw Trophy as ECACHL champion, the third time in five years the Crimson have added that particular honor to the trophy case at the Bright Hockey Center.