ALBANY, N.Y.—After four hours and four minutes of ECAC tournament semifinal hockey against Colgate on Friday and one period of last night’s final against Cornell, the No. 8 Harvard men’s hockey team finally ran out of gas.
Up 1-0 after a gritty first-period effort, the Crimson (20-9-3) surrendered two second-frame goals in quick succession, giving the Big Red (25-4-3) a lead it would hold until the clock wound down, the buzzer sounded, and the Whitelaw Trophy was wheeled out onto the ice.
“Do I think we played our best game? Not by a long shot,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 of his team's 3-1 loss. “But ultimately, you have to give Cornell a lot of credit. We were outplayed, [and] I think they deserved to win.”
The Crimson took a lead into the first intermission when Dylan Reese’s screened slapshot slipped past netminder David McKee at 18:23, but the Big Red would steal the middle frame and carry play for the rest of the game.
Harvard actually enjoyed several good chances with Cornell’s Daniel Pegoraro out for interference, the best of which came when forward Dan Murphy dished the puck from the right circle to the left corner of the crease. A perfectly positioned Brendan Bernakevitch would push it just wide, though, and the score remained 1-0.
“We were carrying the play,” Donato said of his special teams units. “We had some good puck control, some good chances on that power play.”
But just as the time on Pegoraro’s minor expired, the Big Red’s Paul Varteressian blocked Noah Welch’s shot at the blueline, sending the puck rolling towards the penalty box.
“Daniel Pegoraro just jumped out of the box and picked it up,” Varteressian explained. “I was kind of out of gas, but [there are] not too many opportunities to take a two-on-one against a team like Harvard, so I jumped in there and just went as hard to the net as possible.”
Pegoraro sent the puck across the ice to the Varteressian in the slot, and the latter sent the puck trickling past Grumet-Morris at 9:35.
The game was tied, and the Pepsi Arena—packed largely with the Cornell faithful—came to life.
“Their first goal killed us,” Donato said. “We were on the verge of getting a two-goal lead, the guy comes out of the box, and they end up with a two-on-one. It was a big momentum boost. From that point forward, they really took the play to us for the rest of the game.”
Just 27 seconds after the goal, Crimson freshman Tyler Magura was called for hooking, giving the Big Red a power play of its own—a dangerous gift for a squad boasting the nation’s highest conversion rate entering the contest.
And in less than half a minute with the man-advantage, Cornell assistant captain Charlie Cook launched a blueline screamer at 10:30 that beat a screened Grumet-Morris top-shelf.
In the space of 55 seconds, the Big Red had earned a slim lead and, more importantly, a sizeable momentum advantage.
Harvard’s forecheck was never again aggressive, its offense never again in control, and its defense never able to rest. The Crimson mustered only two shots on goal in that middle frame, while Cornell mustered 14, the majority of which came from around the crease and close in the circles. The Big Red outshot Harvard 32-18 on the night.
“To be perfectly honest,” Donato said later, responding to reporters, “[the double-overtime] was a factor. How could it not be a factor?”
But, the coach added, “They outplayed us tonight. Last night was last night.”
And so the Whitelaw Trophy has changed hands for another year. Harvard took the championship game from Cornell in 2002, while the Big Red won it from the Crimson in 2003. Last year, Harvard won it from Clarkson, and this year, it will return to Ithaca, N.Y., again.
Said Donato, simply, “We were outplayed. I think they deserved to win.”
“Sometimes, at the end of the game,” he added, “you’ve just got to take your hat off and say, ‘hey, we got outplayed,’ and I think that was the case tonight.”
—Staff writer Rebecca A. Seesel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.