On the Bench
Some Harvard teams have a reputation for clutching for just not caring enough) and blowing big games. In recent years, the hockey team has lost more games than it should have--for instance, the Crimson bumbled through six overtime games in three years without a victory until they nipped Clarkson in the ECAC's last March.
Last Saturday night, an undefeated, number one-ranked Harvard team took on an off-year Cornell team that had already lost two games by nine goals apiece. Favored Harvard had home ice advantage, momentum, and revenge incentive against a team it has beaten only once in seven seasons. Harvard lost, 5-2.
However, the Crimson did not fold. They did not play sluggishly, or carelessly, and they did not collapse in the third period. They outskated and outshot Cornell in every period. It's true that Harvard did not play an outstanding game. The second defense of Bobby Muse, Dave Hands, and Levy Byrd missed injured Doug Elliott and made a few costly mistakes, and goalie Joe Bertagna let in a junk goal. The power play was not as sharp as usual, capitalizing on only one of nine opportunities (and then only after the game was lost). Cornell penalty killers shut off any close-in shots, and at the point. Bob Goodenow was shooting high and wide.
But despite the mistakes, Harvard cannot be accused of clutching. And although I think Cornell played well, getting great goal tending and checking very closely, I don't think they should have won.
I think that Harvard was simply unlucky. The Crimson hit the post twice and missed by inches numerous times. Hockey is a sufficiently chance game that a team can outplay an inferior opponent for three periods and still lose by three goals. That is one major reason it is almost impossible to go undefeated over a 25-game schedule, and that is why Harvard lost to the Big Red. It's just unfortunate that bad luck should intervene against nemesis Cornell.
The Right Bounce
Oddly, the game was similar to a game in which the puck bounced the right way for Harvard. In March of '71, the Crimson upset B.U. in the ECAC semifinals, 4-2. Harvard played well, but B.U. was clearly a better team, and the Terriers should have won.
The season was not over for B.U., however, and the ECAC committee allowed B.U. to go to the Nationals, despite the Terriers' theoretical elimination in the semis, B.U. went on to win the national championship.
Harvard is still the best team in the East, and probably the best team in the country. The Crimson will get its revenge in Ithaca in February, and very possibly, it will bring home Harvard's first national championship in March.