CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Harvard Crimson rode strong defense, timely scoring and solid goaltending to victory on Saturday night, defeating visiting Cornell 3-1.
The Crimson gained a season split with their nemesis, and now look ahead to hosting next week’s first-round series against Yale.
“I’m happy for our seniors to get out of their last regular season game on a positive note,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato.
The tilt was defined by gritty, punishing play, as referee Scott Hansen let the rivals joust, for the most part. The standing-room-only crowd witnessed 13 penalties overall, but those included two five-minute-majors and coinciding 10-minute misconducts (split evenly between the teams).
The squads went at it from the opening drop, taking every opportunity to blow each other out of their skates. Cornell had the first big scoring opportunities of the game, as freshman Tony Romano banged a one-timer off Justin Tobe’s right post just as the home team’s Jack Christian stepped out of the box.
Center Michael Kennedy also left the vocal Red crowd disappointed with eight minutes to play in the period, as his breakaway bid was broken up by Tobe’s diving poke-check.
Harvard countered with some late chances of its own, as senior Kevin Du swept up a loose puck to Red goalie Ben Scrivens’ left, then dangled it across the top of the crease before the play was broken up.
With only 39 seconds before the horn, Harvard’s Mike Taylor blew a one-time shot into Scrivens, which eked through the freshman’s pads and rested six inches from the goal line. The goaltender quickly gathered himself after what he believed was a clean stop, and fell back onto the lonesome disc.
The grinding perimeter play continued into the second period, again interspersed with moments of clamor and chaos.
At 12:18 of the frame, Scrivens was called upon to make a sprawling, spread-eagle stop on his stomach, and then promptly recovered to snap the incoming rebound shot from a cluster of jerseys.
The tone of the game took a major shift with 7:01 left in the second, as Cornell captain Byron Bitz was unceremoniously dismissed from the contest for a brutal and unmistakable hit-from-behind. Harvard junior David MacDonald was sent off for a deuce for an ensuing contact-to-the-head minor, and the teams skated four to a side for two minutes.
With just more than two minutes remaining on Bitz’s major penalty, Harvard lit the lamp.
Receiving the puck at the left-wing point, captain Dylan Reese drifted cross-ice, and pulled the trigger on a low liner that dove through traffic and beat Scrivens inside the right post.
The hosts proceeded to take three straight penalties between the end of the second period and the early third, including freshman defenseman Chad Morin’s major/misconduct at 4:10 of the third for of all things head-butting.
Teammate Jimmy Fraser was whistled for a controversial delay-of-game with 1:56 remaining in Morin’s penalty, and Cornell felt momentum swing in its direction.
The majority Big Red contingent flew into a raucous fury as Cornell called a timeout, and it was all the outnumbered Harvard pep band and students could do to keep the concept of a home-ice advantage within the realm of possibility.
However, just 24 seconds later, the Red broke through as senior Mark McCutcheon got the last touch on a quick faceoff shot.
The game hanging in the balance, Harvard acted decisively, flooding Cornell’s zone repeatedly over the next few minutes. The price paid was well worth it, as Taylor collected one of a number of rebounds ejected by Scrivens on the left-wing side, and slipped it neatly into the left elbow joint on the far side of the net.
“Throughout the year, we’ve realized there’s a price [paid] to win,” said Donato of his players’ efforts down low.
The invading boosters muted, and the crimson-clad crowing, the hosts put the game away with a minute and a half to go as Christian threw a long shot on net from the right-wing point. The skittering puck snuck through a series of legs, deflecting off Fraser down low, and passed between Scrivens’ skates last of all.
“It’s been that kind of year for us, up and down,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer after the game. “I told my team, if we get a bye, we get a bye,” alluding to the missed opportunity to win the first-round bye themselves.
The Red will have next weekend off after all, as Clarkson downed Quinnipiac, sending the Bobcats into the fray next week.
Harvard was stuck with seventh regardless of the evening’s outcome, thanks to Princeton’s surprising victory over St. Lawrence earlier in the day. The Crimson and Eli will take the ice at the Bright Hockey Center next Friday; Yale beat Harvard in both regular-season meetings this year by a combined score of 10-3.