BOSTON — Riding momentum from its first win in almost three months, Harvard hoped to topple its most bitter rival and end its four-game losing streak to Cornell.
Instead, thanks to a Herculean performance by Cornell goaltender and USA Junior National Team bronze medalist Andy Iles, the Crimson suffered a 2-1 loss to the Big Red, their seventh one-goal loss this season. With 33 saves on the night, Iles was, without question, the key to Cornell’s victory.
“It was a good game by Andy [Iles],” Cornell coach Mike Shafer said. “I thought that he made a couple of huge back-door saves. We broke down, and something we don’t normally do is give up the back door on the power play. Andy made two huge saves in the third.”
Iles could not seal the Big Red’s fate himself. Just when it seemed like the second stanza would end in a stalemate, Cornell netted the eventual game-winner. With just over two minutes to play, Big Red winger Dustin Mowrey took the puck to the bottom of the goalie’s left faceoff circle and dished to linemate Locke Jillson, in the slot who slipped the puck five-hole between the pads of Harvard netminder Ryan Carroll at 17:46. Jillson’s power-play goal put the Big Red up 2-1 and extinguished Harvard’s streak of 20 penalties without allowing a goal.
The game was Harvard’s to win, even in the early goings. Carroll was on the ice for only 13 seconds when he had to head for the bench after Cornell center Sean Collins’ boarding penalty. The Crimson enjoyed a 23 second delayed penalty before its man-advantage officially began. Despite the early handicap, the Big Red held off a potent Harvard power play unit that peppered Iles with seven shots in the first two minutes of play.
Cornell however, drew first blood on a Harvard miscue. Big Red blueliner Braden Birch intercepted a Harvard clear and dished to linemate Mike Devin, who rifled a slap shot past Carroll from center point at 4:45.
“I think we had six or seven shots before they got one,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “And then they bounced back. They are a smart team, and they are able to bend and not break. Quite a few games this year, they’ve gotten outshot, so I don’t think it affects them all that much.”
Harvard answered back at 14:34, when Birch suffered a turnover after a mistaken backwards pass to his linemate through the slot in his own zone. Crimson winger Alex Fallstrom picked off the pass, steadied himself in the slot, and wristed a shot stick side past an unsuspecting Iles. Fallstrom, whose scoring drought ended yesterday in Harvard’s win over Colgate, nabbed his second tally in two days.
The play evened out in the middle frame, with neither team holding a clear advantage over the other until the final minutes. Harvard’s best opportunity came at 13:30, when Crimson center Alex Killorn took a no-look drop pass deep in the slot, but Killorn failed to solve Iles with a wrist shot at the crease.
Cornell pressured with 3:30 to play, as Collins unloaded a bullet in to Carroll’s pads. Tempers flared after the stoppage of play, as is customary in games between these bitter Ivy League rivals. After the melee, Crimson defenseman Brendan Rempel skated away with a roughing penalty that decided the game in favor of the Big Red.
“We probably took an ill-advised penalty on what ultimately ended up being the game-winning goal for them,” Donato said. “In a game this close, obviously small details can make a big difference.”
Cornell did everything for Harvard but put the puck in its own net in the final frame. For the majority of the third period, the Crimson controlled the play and tested Iles 11 times, while Carroll faced only a trio of shots. What’s more, Cornell could not keep itself out of the sin bin, with three penalties in the third period alone. Fortunately for the Big Red, Harvard failed to light the lamp during all six power play minutes.
The Crimson came dangerously close on a power play at 12:53 — in fact, the play was under review for several minutes — when Killorn fired a laser across the crease to blueliner Chris Huxley, whose one-timer could not break the plane. Just seconds later, Harvard defender Danny Biega tried a one-timer of his own from the slot that almost snuck between Iles’ stick and the right post.
“I’m sure the kids are frustrated, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort,” Donato said. “I give [Cornell] credit because I thought they played a smart game. But we certainly had enough chances to get the equalizer and it is frustrating because once again, we had our chances but we’re able to get one by them.”
On a positive note, Harvard skates away from Bright Hockey Center with its first weekend split of the new year, and hopes to carry that momentum into its rematches with Brown and Yale on the road next week.