ALBANY, N.Y.—Sophomore Kevin Du’s breakaway goal with 3:59 left to play in Friday night’s second overtime snapped a 3-3 tie and propelled the No. 8 Harvard men’s hockey team past Colgate and into tonight’s ECAC championship against No. 3 Cornell. With the win, the Crimson improves to 16-1 in league tournament play since the start of the 2002 postseason.
"It was certainly an exciting finish," Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said of the hectic conclusion to the Crimson's 4-3 victory. "It's one of those games you hate to see anybody lose."
With the contest trudging towards a third extra frame, a Raiders turnover handed possession back to Harvard at the Crimson blue line, where assistant captain Ryan Lannon threaded a perfect pass through traffic and squarely onto Du’s stick as he crossed into the Colgate zone. Skating unopposed, the center broke for the net, then nudged the puck across the crease to his forehand and tucked the game-winner inside the right post, ending the fourth-longest contest in the history of the ECAC playoffs four hours and four minutes after it first began at the Pepsi Arena.
“I guess that blows apart the theory that overtime goals are always ugly,” Donato said. “Because that was a very pretty play.”
“Ryan made a beautiful pass to me,” Du added. “I just kinda snuck behind the defensemen and he found me.”
Du had enjoyed a similar opportunity midway through the second period, springing from the penalty box at 10:19 just in time to reach a clearing effort from the Crimson zone as he passed the Colgate blue line. Reversing the strategy that would net his heroic tally, Du tested Silverthorn glove side, following a well-executed deke with a backhand effort that was turned away only by a full-extension pad save.
“[He] made a really nice save on me,” Du said. “I went with my backhand, so this time I figured I’d go to my forehand. And thankfully it worked.”
Of course, Du wasn’t the only Harvard skater vindicated by the final outcome. The Crimson (21-8-3, 15-5-2) had held three separate leads in regulation, each of which was erased in turn by a third-period Colgate tally.
Locked in a sloppy defensive struggle a full 40 minutes before Du’s score, Harvard appeared to have notched the clinching goal, courtesy of junior Charlie Johnson. With the Crimson well-established in the Raiders’ zone, freshman Jon Pelle corralled the loose puck in the corner, then slipped in front of the net with a nifty move through the defense. Though Silverthorn rebuffed the freshman’s initial attempt to stuff his shot home, Johnson cleaned up the rebound with a stick-side strike to stake the Crimson to a 2-1 lead with just 3:59 to play.
But rather than implode, Colgate (24-10-3, 14-5-3) answered right back just 45 seconds later, converting on the aggressive, physical play in and around Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris’ crease they had relied upon so heavily throughout the evening. Raiders forward Adam Mitchell’s latest offering from the faceoff circle—earlier in the period he had found the crossbar from nearly the same spot and forced several spectacular saves in the subsequent scrum—caught Grumet-Morris awkwardly, sending the puck floating back above his head and into the crease behind him, where it came to a brief and uneasy rest. With most skaters unsure just where the puck was, Colgate rushed the net en masse, knocking into Grumet-Morris as Raiders defenseman Joey Mormina staved off a check to the back to punch home the game-tying goal at 16:46.
“Our season was on the line,” Mormina said. “We didn’t really talk about it, but it was kind of understood that we needed to step up in the third.”
As both sides forsook defense in their desperate effort to pull ahead in the frame’s waning moments, sophomore Dylan Reese’s failed clearing attempt squirted to Cavanagh at the Harvard blue line, where he dashed past a pair of Colgate defenders and headed up ice with only Mormina left to beat. Afforded hardly any space at all, Cavanagh deftly pushed a pass to himself around the Raiders’ last man as he crossed center ice, then fought to squeeze off a wrist shot in the slot as Mormina attempted to haul him down.
Though Silverthorn turned the effort aside with his pad, Cavanagh managed to flip the rebound into the top lefthand corner of the goal just before he and Mormina crashed into the net to knock it off its moorings, prompting an extended review of the tally by the officials. But like Johnson’s before it, the score stood upon a second look, giving the Crimson a 3-2 lead at 18:03.
“Obviously the guys upstairs clearly thought it was a goal from all the angles they looked at so there’s really nothing to argue,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “Clearly they made the right call.”
But the Harvard lead lasted for just a fraction of the time referee Alex Dell had set aside to determine whether or not to allow Cavanagh’s goal. Darryl McKinnon feigned a shot from the right faceoff circle to freeze the Crimson defense, then shuffled the puck cross-ice to Mormina, who one-timed the feed past Grumet-Morris to retie the score after just 36 seconds.
“I think there was a great sense of urgency on both sides, and there were a couple of terrific plays both from our side as well as their side,” said Grumet-Morris, who recorded 46 saves on the evening. “In that situation, you’re just trying to make it to the end of the period and regroup in the locker room and take it to overtime.”
Once there, according to Lannon, experience simply kicked in to temper any negative thoughts.
“Obviously we weren’t happy with the way the end of the game went,” he said. “But the mood was light in the locker room. We never panicked. We never got too worried about it. We were just enjoying ourselves and staying loose. We knew it was just going to take another goal.”
Precisely when that goal would come, however, was anything but certain. Tired and reluctant to risk a game-ending mistake, both sides assumed more conservative styles of play in the first overtime, drastically reducing the number of viable scoring opportunities.
But with skaters battling cramps and dehydration, that approach couldn’t last and play markedly opened up early in the second overtime.
“Late in the game we were juggling lines simply because we had to. We had guys cramping up on the bench,” Vaughan said. “There wasn’t anything we could do.”
Following a minute of extended pressure at its own end, Colgate narrowly missed its last best chance to claim the victory at 13:50. Grumet-Morris turned aside the Raiders’ initial opportunity, but the rebound kicked to his right to Kyle Wilson, who quickly sent the puck back on net. Disoriented and discombobulated, Grumet-Morris allowed the effort to slide between his legs and through the crease before skipping just inches wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Du tiptoed behind the Colgate defense and buried the game-winner.
“It wasn’t pretty from a coach’s perspective,” Donato said. “But I’m happy with the result, you know? What can you say?...This group of seniors—it’s their fourth ECAC championship appearance. And I’m glad they took me along for the ride.”
NOTES: Cornell defeated Vermont 3-0 in the afternoon semifinal to secure its berth in the final. Big Red coach Mike Schafer said in the press conference afterwards that he had no preference as to an opponent, but noted that “the only thing I'm hoping for is a five or six overtime game that goes until 4 a.m.”…Despite their losses, both the Raiders and Catamounts remain in contention for an NCAA at-large bid, though each requires a win in this afternoon’s consolation game…Cavanagh’s goal was his 10th of the season, the most of any Crimson skater. Du’s game-winner was his fourth of the year, a team-high, and his ninth tally overall.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.