On a weekend when the Ivy League’s eyes shifted to a century-old football rivalry, Harvard and Cornell did justice to their own, fighting down to the wire as the No. 19 Crimson men’s hockey team held off the Big Red, 2-1, Friday night at the Bright Hockey Center.
In a matchup that has traditionally pitted Harvard’s speed against Cornell’s size, it was the Crimson (4-1, 4-1 ECAC) that started the game off on a physical note. Its aggressive forecheck troubled the Big Red (3-3, 3-2) throughout the night, preventing Cornell from building up any sort of offensive rhythm.
“What we try to do, especially in our building, is get it deep, go after them, put them on their heels right away,” said assistant coach Sean McCann ’94.
Without a steady flow to its passing game, the Big Red struggled to challenge the Harvard net, tallying just seven shots in the first period and four in the third frame. The lone period in which Cornell broke double-digits was the second period, when it outshot the Crimson, 12-8.
Standing in its way, though, was standout sophomore goaltender Kyle Richter, who entered the weekend as the reigning Inside College Hockey National Player of the week. Although the Big Red’s Blake Gallagher managed to beat him in the opening period, notching an equalizer in the ninth minute, Richter seemed virtually impenetrable the entire night, swiping away pucks even when he was sprawled out on the ice.
“He’s come in and really thrown the team on his back,” junior defenseman Brian McCafferty said. “Every time that we go out there this year, we feel like we can beat anybody.”
Wearing the No. 2 jersey that hung in the locker of former captain Dylan Reese ’07 until this season, McCafferty showed that he, too, is a blueliner who can contribute on both sides of the ice. Matching up against Cornell’s top forwards on defense, he and co-captain David MacDonald helped limit the Big Red power play to just five shots and one goal in four opportunities. And with Harvard’s forwards creating opportunities but struggling to finish, McCafferty stepped in to tally the game-winning goal, slamming home a rebound at 7:30 of the third period to put the Crimson ahead, 2-1.
Naturally, he declined to take any of the credit.
“Matty McCollem did all the work,” McCafferty said. “He was the one that got hit, he was the one that was lying on the ice. So all the dirty work was him—I just got the glory, which is unfair.”
What the night’s victory masked, however, was the inability of the Harvard offense to convert on its scoring chances. The Crimson started on the right note, with junior winger Jon Pelle cleaning up a rebound at the left post just 3:25 into the game. But that was the only time a Harvard forward scored all night despite the Crimson picking up three man-advantage opportunities and launching 35 shots overall.
Though the team isn’t complaining about offensive production from the defensive corps, Harvard remains a team in search of a go-to goalscorer. Half of the Crimson’s 16 goals this season having been recorded by blueliners, and only two forwards—Pelle and senior center Paul Dufault—have lit the lamp more than once.
“We [have] some guys that like to jump up like Alex Biega, Brian McCafferty, and Chris Huxley, so that definitely helps from the standpoint of getting us better opportunities,” McCann said. “But I think the main thing is that we need to continue to try and produce offensively, 5-on-5, and getting as many opportunities as we can from our forwards also.”
Nevertheless, the two goals proved to be enough because the Harvard defense kept the Big Red off-balance all night. Even on its power plays, Cornell struggled to possess the puck in the offensive zone. On those rare occasions when the Big Red did manage to keep the puck inside the Crimson blue line, few shots managed to find their way to the net, with Harvard defenders blocking 14 shots and 13 straying wide.
“The guys have been doing a great job, keeping the guys to the outside, clearing rebounds for me, giving me a chance to challenge the shooters,” Richter said.
And those 23 times when the puck was on target, Richter stood tall on net, making just one mistake and foiling Cornell’s Colin Greening several times, often just inches outside the goal line.
The Big Red pulled netminder Ben Scrivens for the final 1:20 of the game, but the extra attacker proved little help. The best opportunity of the closing moments was in fact for Harvard, with sophomore defenseman Alex Biega flipping the puck from center ice towards the empty Cornell net—only to watch Big Red blueliner Doug Krantz sweep it away at the last possible second.
In the end, even with the cheers of the Lynah faithful taking advantage of the Harvard exodus to New Haven, there was little Cornell could do to stop the Crimson from winning on this rivalry weekend.
“You definitely want the support, but it’s a different situation—there’s some football game going on down there,” McCann said, adding, “We just said, ‘Listen. This is our building, we gotta play hard, we gotta go after them, we gotta play our type of game. Let’s not worry about who’s going to be there, what type of noise it is—anything like that. Let’s just go out and play our game.’”
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.