ALBANY, N.Y. — Harvard and Cornell sought the same path to the NCAA tournament, but the road that begins in Albany is strictly of the one-lane variety. The Crimson and Big Red went toe-to-toe Friday evening for a shot at the league title and its automatic NCAA bid, with Harvard winning 3-1 over its age-old foe.
“It was a hard-fought game, as it always is,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “In the most respectful way, I say that I’m happy to see Topher Scott, Ray Sawada, and some of these other [Cornell] guys graduate.”
Each Ivy had its chances in the opening period. Cornell’s Ben Scrivens stopped Dave Watters on the doorstep early on, and Crimson goaltender Kyle Richter made a chest save on an Evan Barlow one-timer later in the frame.
Harvard didn’t let the tension linger into the second period, as the suddenly sizzling Dave Watters tipped a Brian McCafferty power-play point shot through Scrivens four minutes in.
The Crimson went back on the man-advantage the very next minute, and once again made the Big Red pay. Senior Jon Pelle promptly found the back of the net just shy of the five-minute mark, putting the Cantabs up a quick 2-0.
The Ithacan icers played the PP game as well, halving the Harvard lead at 6:57 of the second. Senior Topher Scott took a wide-open backdoor feed from classmate and co-captain Raymond Sawada to excite the predominantly pro-Red crowd.
Referee Peter Feola put the whistle away in the final period as the 98-year-old rivalry dissolved into little more than a color-coordinated street brawl. The teams traded big hits, a handful of questionable offenses, and precious few scoring opportunities as the clock wound down.
Cornell got a break at 14:14 of the third, however, as Feola thought enough of Jack Christian’s trip to send the Harvard junior to the box. The Big Red’s electric power play — which accounted for over a third of the team’s goals this season — applied fierce pressure to the Crimson defense, but timely saves by Richter kept Harvard in the lead.
“When Kyle’s on it just makes everyone more confident,” said Donato.
Harvard got its own man-advantage as Somerville native Matt McCollem was slashed by Cornell’s Jared Seminoff on a breakaway. Pelle stood unmolested on the edge of Scrivens’ crease, and tipped an Alex Biega blast high over the sophomore goaltender for Harvard’s third power-play goal of the night.
Harvard plays for its ninth ECAC Hockey tournament crown — and fourth in seven years — against Princeton on Saturday night, while Cornell faces Colgate in the consolation game. The Tigers blanked the Raiders 3-0 Friday afternoon, largely thanks to goaltender Zane Kalemba’s 27 saves.