The game is finally here. Two bitter rivals will square off in a contest featuring bad blood and a history of intense competition. But this isn’t “The Game”, and it won’t be played on the gridiron, but on the ice.
The No. 15 Harvard men’s hockey team travels to Lynah Rink tonight to face Cornell for the first time since the Crimson’s thrilling, 4-3 overtime victory in last season’s ECAC championship game.
“At this point, I think we have probably the best rivalry in the ECAC,” junior forward Tim Pettit said. “It’s one of the better rivalries in all of college hockey. We love to hate each other.”
Last season, this mutual hatred was on full display as Harvard narrowly won the season series 2-1, with both wins coming in overtime.
The Crimson (4-1-0, 1-1-0 ECAC) captured the first contest at home, 4-3 in overtime, but was trounced 6-3 in Ithaca in the rematch. In the decisive ECAC championship game played in Lake Placid, N.Y., Harvard fought back from two one-goal deficits to tie the game, 3-3, with a pair of goals by Pettit. Sixteen minutes into the second overtime, junior forward Tyler Kolarik squeezed a shot by Cornell goaltender Matt Underhill to send the Big Red packing.
Cornell will be looking for redemption tonight, with many players from last year’s losing squad returning for revenge. The No. 8 Big Red (4-1-0, 3-1-0 ECAC) is currently in third place in the ECAC, while the Crimson is tied with Brown for the top spot with eight points, two ahead of Cornell.
A twist to the Harvard-Cornell game will certainly be the Big Red’s trout-toting fans, who have a quirky tradition of bringing dead fish into Lynah Rink and tossing them onto the ice during Crimson pre-game player introductions.
“It’s a lot of fun playing up there because we get fish thrown at us,” Pettit said. “All the fans get into it. It’s probably the most intense atmosphere to play in in college hockey, at least for us.”
The Crimson will have a lot more to deal with than dead fish, as the Big Red boasts an imposing defensive line led by senior Doug Murray, a Hobey Baker finalist last year and a preseason All-American selection. Cornell’s offense is also talented, tallying 22 goals in its first five games of the season.
Most of Harvard’s recent success against Cornell has come when the Crimson has taken advantage of its athleticism and speed on its forward line. Lake Placid’s olympic-size sheet is larger than the standard college rink, and Harvard exploited this difference effectively last year with swift, well-timed puck movement.
“[Harvard is] the best team in the league, maybe overall,” St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh said. “But they’re certainly the best team in the league with the puck.”
Harvard defeated the Saints earlier this season, 6-1, displaying fluid offensive execution.
Despite suffering a sound defeat last year in Ithaca, Crimson players remain confident entering the contest.
“You can’t beat experience,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “Being in big games means an awful lot, and we won a lot of big games towards the end of the year.”
Perhaps the Crimson player exuding the most confidence in his play recently has been sophomore goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris. He and Pettit were named ECAC Co-Players of the Week earlier this week following two stellar performances against St. Lawrence and Clarkson last weekend. Grumet-Morris allowed just one goal in each of those contests.
Against the Big Red, the second-year goalie will look to continue his dominance and maintain his impressive .942 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average.
Following its showdown with Cornell, the Crimson will travel to Hamilton, N.Y. to face Colgate on Saturday. The teams split their series last season, with each squad winning on its home ice.
Heading into Ithaca with a four-game winning streak, Harvard hopes to build on its success away from home last weekend. This early-season match-up with rival Cornell will be a telling indicator of how Harvard compares to other nationally ranked programs.