Sophomore Tyler Kolarik’s goal at 16:11 of double overtime gave the Harvard men’s hockey an epic 4-3 double-overtime victory over heavily-favored Cornell in the ECAC championship game, sending the Crimson to its first NCAA tournament since 1994.
“It was a great college hockey game,” Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “We had to be at our best to beat Cornell, and this was our best game.”
Written off just two weeks earlier after backing into the postseason, Harvard improbably secured an automatic tourney berth with its first four-game winning streak of the season.
Three of those four wins came in overtime, including Harvard’s 3-2 victory over Clarkson inthe ECAC semifinals on Friday.
Against Cornell, Harvard improved to 4-0-4 in overtime games on the year, with each win more exciting than the one before.
“I never envisioned this would happen tonight,” Mazzoleni said.
The win was a gigantic step for the Harvard hockey program, which had fallen under hard times in the late 1990s after being one of the dominant teams in college hockey a decade before.
Harvard 4, Cornell 3 (2OT)
Kolarik’s goal ended a stalemate that surpassed Harvard’s 2-1 victory over Brown last Saturday as the longest game in school history.
The game-winning sequence started when sophomore forward Tim Pettit fired a pass up the right side to a streaking Kolarik, who took the puck inside the blueline. Kolarik, playing with a broken thumb, then wristed a knuckling shot which eluded Cornell goalie Matt Underhill to the stick side and set off a mad celebration behind the Cornell goal.
“I thought I caught Underhill by surprise,” Kolarik said. “He was expecting me to go wide, but I shot it toward the net with all I have.”
For his efforts, Kolarik was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Junior forward Dominic Moore, who led all goal scorers in the playoffs with four, made the All-Championship team.
In addition to being the longest game in Harvard history, Saturday’s contest was the longest-ever ECAC championship game and the ninth-longest game in the history of NCAA hockey.
Both teams battled fatigue in the second overtime. Harvard had to be especially wary of tiring, as the Crimson played just three lines for virtually the entire game, while the Big Red countered with four.
Harvard had also played to overtime game against Clarkson the night before, while Cornell cruised into the finals with an easy 3-0 victory over RPI.
But the skaters from both teams somehow found bursts of energy when necessary. Cavanagh was especially active in the second overtime for Harvard, just missing on a mini-breakaway opportunity early in the period. Cornell also had its chances to end the game—including one where Grumet-Morris lost the puck in his own crease—but the Big Red was unable to capitalize.
“Our legs were tired, but our hearts weren’t,” Moore said.
Once again, Grumet-Morris was huge in the extra periods. The freshman goaltender maintained his poise, turning away shot after shot for his third overtime win in as many games.
Cornell narrowly avoided disaster at the end of regulation. It is customary for a hockey referee to call no penalty short of criminal assault late in a tie game as important as last night’s, but referee Scott Hansen whistled Cornell defenseman Doug Murray for roughing with just over a minute left in overtime. The call infuriated Cornell coach Mike Schafer and the Big Red bench.
Harvard was unable to capitalize on the unexpected man advantage, though, as Cornell easily killed off the penalty spanning regulation and the beginning of overtime.
Harvard opened the game tentatively, containing Cornell, but unable to muster much offensive pressure on its own. When Cornell failed to score early, though, Harvard seemed to gain confidence, and the Crimson opened the scoring at 16:38 when Moore unleashed an wrist shot from the left-face-off circle that eluded Underhill between his pads.
Harvard had the lead, but not for long. Cornell tied the game 50 seconds later on a goal by Krzysztof Wieckowski.
Despite the Big Red quick score, Harvard’s goal energized the Crimson, who was finally able to establish consistent offensive pressure toward the end of the first period.
The second period featured furious action and simply dominating five-on-five hockey from the Crimson. Defensive breakdowns and penalties plagued Harvard, however, and teams skated off tied at three.
Cornell started the period on the power play after a Smith obstruction minor, and it started the scoring just 42 seconds in, when Sam Paolini’s close-range shot trickled to the right of Grumet-Morris for a power-play goal, giving the Big Red a 2-1 lead.
Harvard earned its first power-play opportunity five minutes later, and it wasted little time taking advantage.
Brett Nowak collected the puck at Harvard’s own blue line and raced up the left side of the rink all the way to the Big Red faceoff circle. Nowak then fired a picture-perfect pass to Pettit on the other side of the crease, who flipped the puck into the net at 7:01 of the second.
Harvard dictated play for the next several minutes, establishing their aggressive forecheck which has given opponents so many problems in the last two weeks. The Crimson had several scoring chances, but it was Cornell who broke the tie, taking advantage of a Harvard defensive breakdown as Palahicky beat Grumet-Morris for the 3-2 lead.
That goal did not slow the Crimson down, however. Harvard did not let up on its attack, and after extended pressure in the Cornell zone, the Crimson finally converted with just 15.9 seconds left in the period. Pettit capped off a flurry of Crimson shots, taking a pass from captain Peter Capouch to net his second goal of the game.
That goal tied the score at three, and it began nearly 60 minutes of scoreless hockey which ended with Harvard as ECAC champions.