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Harvard's hockey team will try to find some honor amid the wreckage of its once high-flying season tonight, when the Crimson travels to Ithaca to face a 16-4 Cornell team.
Cornell's Lynah Rink is not a hospitable place for a team trying to break out of a three game losing streak. The Big Red had won 63 games in a row at Lynah before losing to Clarkson in January.
It is unlikely that Cornell will be eager to accommodate Harvard's comeback hopes after falling to the Crimson for the first time in six years last month at Watson Rink. Cornell takes its rivalry with Harvard seriously enough to award a trophy to the player with the most goals against Harvard in a single season.
Cornell has been trying to snap out of a slump of its own over the last week, and although the Big Red has won three in a row, its victories have not been overwhelming.
"I know exactly what (Harvard coach Billy) Clearly is going through," Cornell's coach Dick Bertrand said yesterday. Over the last five games, Bertrand's team has lost mediocre Clarkson, 4-2, split with Harvard's nemeses, Dartmouth and Penn, 2-3 and 7-6, and stumbled past a miserable Princeton team, 6-5, before coasting by Yale last Wednesday, 7-3.
Against Penn, Cornell blew a 4-1 first period lead and needed a lucky overtime goal to win, and against Princeton, the Big Red wasted a 53-18 shooting edge. With the exception of the Penn game, Cornell, like Harvard, has badly outshot its tormentors.
Cornell's other losses have come at Harvard (6-4) and at Notre Dame (a 5-4 upset in overtime). "Harvard was the only team we deserved to lose to," said Bertrand. "Harvard made our defense look sick." The Crimson outshot Cornell in that game, 50-27, and proved that at its best Harvard is clearly the superior team.
At its present pace, however, the Crimson is in serious trouble. Joe Bertagna's goal tending has been a little weak over the past three games, and he hasn't had much help from the defense.
Offensively, Harvard's scoring balance has been impaired by the third line's four game drought, and even the potent Local Line appeared to be very tired against Dartmouth.
Cornell, like Penn and Dartmouth and unlike some of the Crimson's earlier victims, has the speed to back check with Harvard's fast forwards, and with 4200 fans spurring them on in Cornell's snakepit, the Big Red may be able to prolong Harvard's new-found inability to put the puck in the net.
Tonight's game is Harvard's last chance to wrest the Ivy League championship from Cornell after seven years of Cornell domination, and it is the Crimson's last chance to prove itself against good competition before the ECAC play-offs.
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