A Change of Fortunes
Fortunes can change quickly in college hockey, and the shift that occurred in the minutes following the holding call on the Big Red’s Daniel Pegoraro during the second period provided a stark illustration of that fact.
With Harvard leading 1-0, Cornell asserted itself more aggressively at the start of the second and began to control the flow of the game. Then Pegoraro was called for holding after he pinned diminutive Crimson forward Kevin Du to the glass behind the Cornell net. Harvard’s power-play unit put pressure on Cornell but could not muster a shot. And with the advantage just expired, Cornell forward Mitch Carefoot set the game-tying goal in motion.
Carefoot banged the puck off the sideboards in the Cornell end, the puck bounced off the boards and out into the neutral zone before Pegoraro, just out of the box, gathered it in and started up ice. Harvard defenseman Noah Welch raced to cut him of but chose to play the puck rather than the pass, and left Crimson netminder Dov Grumet-Morris in at tough position.
“I thought our backchecker was there and I thought it actually turned into a one-on-one and I gave the guy the pass across, which is not my job,” Welch said.
Pegoraro’s pass found a streaking Paul Varteressian coming in from Grumet-Morris’ right, and he put a point blank shot on net that Grumet-Morris wasn’t able to hold on to.
“I should let Dov take the shooter, so I take responsibility for that goal,” Welch said. “Dov almost had it, almost made a great save …”
But Grumet-Morris wasn’t able to hold onto the puck and complete the great save; he stopped the hard shot, but couldn’t hold it and the puck trickled into the net. And Harvard, just 14 seconds removed from a strong power play was suddenly faced with a tie game.
“I think their first goal killed us,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “We were carrying the play, we were on the power play, we were really controlling the puck well. We had some good puck control, some good chances on that power play.
“We were on the verge of getting a two-goal lead, the guy comes out of the box, and they end up with a 2-on-1. It was a big momentum boost. From that point forward, they really took the play to us for the rest of the game.”
Harvard’s struggles in the second and third periods were due, in large part, to the fatigue factor. Having waged a 96:01 minute battle with Colgate that lasted into the early hours of Saturday morning, the Crimson appeared slower on their skates than Cornell’s players. Add to that fatigue the bruising physical style of the Big Red, and Harvard’s late game struggles are very understandable. But after the game, Donato didn’t want to emphasize the role that fatigue played in the game’s outcome.
“To be perfectly honest, it was a factor,” he admitted. “How could it not be a factor? I’d prefer not to rely on excuses.”
“Do I think we played our best game?” Donato continued. “Not by a long shot. But ultimately, you have to give Cornell a lot of credit. We were outplayed, I think they deserved to win.
“Sometimes, at the end of the game, you’ve just got to take your hat off and say, ‘Hey, we got outplayed,’ and I think that was the case tonight.”
The Deluge and The Drought
The first period was a relatively even affair, and had a certain up-tempo flow to the play. Both teams had quality scoring chances, and though Harvard ended the frame up 1-0, the Crimson was out shot by the Big Red 12 to 8.
All that changed with the start of the second, a period that has been especially fortuitous for Cornell all season. Any team that has the best defense in the nation — the Big Red allowed an average of only 1.25 goals per game — must be effective in all facets of the game, but the numbers in the middle frame are almost unbelievable. Over 32 games this season, Cornell has outscored its opponents 46 to 9 during the second.
Asked what has led his team to be so successful in the second period, Schafer responded with the funniest quote of the Tournament.
“I don’t know, but if we could bottle it we’d move it to the first and the third also,” he said.
The Big Red also did a strong job bottling up Harvard’s offense in the second period; the Crimson managed only two shots in the second and spent nearly all of the period in their own defensive zone despite having a power play and a few odd-man rushes into the Cornell end.
Quite a Shot
Charlie Cook, the ECAC Tournament MVP, plays a pivotal part in the nation’s best power play unit. This season the Big Red converted at a 24.7% rate with the man-advantage, but the senior defenseman who tallied two power play goals in tonight’s 3-1 win over Harvard was nearly removed from the unit during the off-season.
“Charlie and I had a conversation last summer about the power play,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “I said to him, ‘If you’re not going to start shooting the puck, you’re not going to be on our power play.”
That talk had an impact on Cook and his offseason work, according to both player and coach.
“[Coach Schafer] laid it on the line last summer,” Cook said. “[He told me to] work on my one-timer and to work on my shot … and it paid off.”
Cook’s two scores, the eventual game winner at 10:30 of the second period and an insurance score six and a half minutes into the third, both came off of accurate shots from the point. The game winner was a pin-point shot that beat Grumet-Morris high on his glove side, and Cook’s second came on a bullet of a shot after he one-timed a pass from Matt Moulson.
“I didn’t see either of [Cook’s] shots,” Grumet-Morris said. “They have a very good power play, and they did an excellent job executing at the top of their umbrella. Cook put good shots on the net that found the back.”
Back on the Top (Again)
A year after being bounced in a quarterfinals series against Clarkson at Lynah Rink, Cornell returned to the familiar setting of an ECAC Final against the Crimson. The teams met previously in the 2002 and 2003 finals, with Harvard prevailing 4-3 in double overtime in 2002 and Cornell gaining revenge in 2003 with a 3-2 overtime win.
For their respective ECAC playoff careers, the seniors of Cornell and Harvard enjoyed tremendous success. The Big Red’s senior class finished with two ECAC titles in four years and an overall record of 12-3-0. Harvard’s hockey class of 2005 likewise finished with two ECAC titles, and posted a gaudy 16-2-0 record.