UPDATED: March 19, 2017, at 12:20 p.m.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — First a Beanpot. Then a Cleary. Now a Whitelaw.
The wins keep coming, and so do the trophies. Playing in its third straight ECAC championship game, the No. 2 Harvard men’s hockey team lit the lamp in every period of a 4-1 victory over Cornell on Saturday, bringing home its 10th ECAC title in program history and extending its unbeaten streak to a program-best 16 games.
“There’s been a lot of hard work and dedication put into building a team like this, and it’s unbelievable for everything to be coming to fruition,” co-captain Devin Tringale said. “We put a lot of these things up in the locker room as goals throughout the season, and to be checking them off like we are, it’s amazing."
“This was definitely right at the top of our list,” added the senior about this championship in particular, his second conference title as a member of the Crimson. “I feel like I’ve been saying this a couple too many times, but this was a championship that we really wanted.”
One night after senior Sean Malone registered a hat trick in the semifinals against Quinnipiac, sophomore Ryan Donato took the goal-scoring baton and logged two tallies of his own in the tournament finale—both from the power play.
Donato’s first score came 14:41 into the opening period when the Ivy League Player of the Year connected from the center point to put Harvard (26-5-2, 16-4-2 ECAC) in front, 1-0. After a faceoff win by co-captain Alexander Kerfoot, Donato received the puck from freshman defenseman Adam Fox, faked a slapshot, then ripped a powerful wrister on net that skipped off the goaltender and in.
From there, the scoreline remained static for more than a period’s worth of action, but not for a complete lack of offensive opportunities. In fact, Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said he felt Cornell (21-8-5, 13-4-5) had his team “on the ropes” several times. Yet the Crimson remained in control, largely because Merrick Madsen began to emerge as the true star of the night.
Matching his 25-for-26 stat line from Friday’s win over the Bobcats, the junior netminder made a number of stellar glove and pad saves throughout the contest to hold the Big Red at bay. Madsen held Cornell off the board entirely until only 1:17 of hockey remained, by which time Harvard’s lead had ballooned to 4-0.
“You always want your goalie to come up with the big save at the right time in the game, and I think he did that today,” Ted Donato said. “Especially when that score was 2-0, they had some great chances, and he made some incredible saves. I think when he’s on like that, which he has been in all our big games, it certainly allows the team to play with confidence.”
Madsen, whom Ryan Donato referred to as “a brick wall” in the postgame press conference, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament for his efforts. The junior was also joined on the All-Tournament team by four fellow members of the Crimson—including the younger Donato and Fox.
The other two Harvard representatives were Malone and Luke Esposito, who teamed up to double the Crimson lead with 3:52 remaining in the second period. From behind the Cornell cage, Malone set up Esposito for an in-tight attempt by Mitch Gilliam’s left post that squeaked just inside the pipe.
That was the only time Gillam was truly beaten at even strength because Harvard’s only other 5-on-5 goal was the product of an incredibly fortuitous bounce off the back boards. Three minutes into the third period, Gillam retreated behind his net to play a puck that had been dumped in by junior defenseman Wiley Sherman, only for it to take a crazy carrum back towards the goalmouth. As a result, sophomore Michael Floodstrand had an empty net to bury.
Donato added the icing on the cake—a laser from the high-slot—from the power play with 9:50 remaining, but the game had effectively already been won. Unlike Friday when Harvard had to stave off 15 shots in the final period, the Crimson allowed just six such tries to Cornell.
“I think we’re really finding form right now,” Tringale said. “Playoff hockey is obviously really important. It’s the best time of year, and it’s important that we play our best hockey now. And I think we’re doing that.”
Next on Harvard’s radar is the NCAA tournament, where the Crimson has made a first-round exit in back-to-back seasons. This year, however, Harvard will be a one-seed. As the top team in the East Regional, the Crimson will open the Big Dance Friday (4 p.m.) against fourth-seeded Providence within the Friars' own city.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.