ALBANY, N.Y. — Twenty-four hours after eliminating bitter rival Cornell, the Crimson ran out of gas against Ivy foe Princeton 4-1 in the ECAC Hockey Finals in Albany. Tigers goaltender Zane Kalemba stopped 34 shots and 61 of 62 on the weekend to win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, while Jon Pelle scored Harvard’s lone goal in the loss.
“I’ve never seen a performance like that before,” said victorious coach Guy Gadowsky of his goalie’s jaw-dropping tournament acrobatics.
The 204th meeting between Harvard (17-13-4) and Princeton (19-13-3) recalled ample history, but never with so much at stake: the winner advances to the NCAA tournament; the loser goes home.
“We didn’t finish it off exactly the way we wanted to, but from a coaching standpoint, I couldn’t be prouder of the way we performed,” said Harvard’s Ted Donato.
The Stripes struck the first blow at 5:04, as stalwart senior Mike Moore ripped a low shot through a cloud of players in front of Harvard’s Kyle Richter. The puck appeared to change direction on the sophomore netminder and slipped between his legs for the game’s first goal.
The teams exchanged opportunities in fast-paced up-and-down action, with Princeton out-shooting the Crimson 15-13 at the break.
Princeton doubled Harvard’s deficit on a Landis Stankievech shot at 12:34 of the second period. The Rhodes Scholar and league’s Student-Athlete of the Year slammed a shot toward Richter’s midsection, but the rubber squeaked through the goaltender’s pads as he dropped to his knees.
“I don’t know which is a bigger honor,” Stankievech said, regarding the prestigious Scholarship and the ECAC Hockey title. “But I do know one thing: if I wasn’t with these guys on this team, I wouldn’t be a Rhodes Scholar.”
With only 20 left to play, Harvard trailed 2-0 despite out-shooting the Tigers 25-23.
The Crimson went to work in a hurry in the third, as Pelle hammered home a cross-ice feed from Mike Taylor on a four-on-three power play 24 seconds into the period. It was the senior’s fifth goal of this postseason, all coming on the man-advantage.
Richter made an immense right-pad stop on Kevin Lohry’s breakaway six minutes later, but Kalemba was equally superb, rolling over to deny Harvard’s tying bid with 13 minutes on the clock.
“He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he works hard and he never gives up on a rebound,” said Pelle.
Alex Biega’s interference minor with barely three and a half to play put Harvard at a huge disadvantage on the clock, and then on the scoreboard as well. Princeton’s leading scorer Brett Wilson added to his total with his 15th goal of the season, dropping Harvard into a 3-1 hole.
The Tigers finished off the Cambridge club with Mark Magnowski’s empty-netter at 18:22.
“They played very well and made some plays from the net on out,” said Donato. “We were not able to penetrate and get enough dangerous shots.”
“They’re a good skating team, that forces you into a lot of turnovers,” assessed Donato of Princeton’s NCAA chances. “They have a lot of difference-makers and an X-factor in Kalemba; he’s certainly on a roll.”
Princeton won its second tournament title in three tries, having last worn the crown in 1998. The decade-old accomplishment also precipitated the Tigers’ only NCAA appearance, a 2-1 loss to Michigan in the opening round.
While Pelle and Taylor joined Princeton’s Kalemba, Mike Moore and Lohry on the All-Tournament team, Harvard failed in its bid for a fourth tournament championship in six seasons and ninth overall.