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It was a wacky game last night at Bright Hockey Center.
Bad bounces, teams scoring into their own nets, players being penalized for taunting their opponents. You name it.
However, when the dust had settled, it was obvious that the better team had won. Given recent hockey history, however, that is also bizarre.
Cornell hadn't beaten Harvard in 12 chances entering the 1995-96 season. With last night's 5-4 victory, though, the Big Red completed a sweep of this season's series with the Crimson.
The Big Red did it with team defense. After scoring early in the third period, Cornell completely shut Harvard down in its own zone. Four measly shots on goal the Crimson mustered, and at most one of them was a quality opportunity. And more importantly, the Big Red blanked Harvard over the final 38:57 of the match.
Half of Harvard's goals were gifts, too. Big Red starting goalie Eddy Skazyk stopped Joe Craigen's shot only to have his own defenseman swat the puck off of himself and into his own net to give the Crimson a 3-2 lead. And Henry Higdon's second goal that put Harvard up 4-3 gave new meaning to the word sieve for back-up netminder Jason Elliott as the puck inexcusably scooted through the goalie.
True, Cornell got some lucky bounces as well. But the Big Red was the stronger squad as the game wore on, putting itself in position to get those bounces more often than Harvard. It outchanced the Crimson by a 30-16 count over the final 40 minutes.
Cornell won it fair and square and give the Big Red players and coaches credit. This is a team that finished ninth in the ECAC last season and that is now in fourth place.
A lot of the change in Cornell's play has to do with its new coach, Mike Schafer. A rugged player for the Big Red during the mid-1980s, Schafer has instilled a new mentality with his team.
Of Cornell's 20 players on the ice, only two are freshmen, so the difference is not talent but execution. The Big Red hits hard, it skates fast and it has the ability to play a tough team defense when it needs to, as in the final 40 minutes last night.
The Cornell team and fans are close, and the post-game reactions drove that point home. The coaches hugged each other, the players jumped off the bench for a mob hug and hundreds of Cornell fans and band members (perhaps one-third of the crowd) shouted out and celebrated the Big Red's first victory at Bright since 1985.
Harvard would do well to follow Cornell's example. Granted, the Crimson has been injured, but throughout the season, it has lacked the tenacity that a team like Cornell showed last night or that Vermont displayed when it came from two goals down to defeat Harvard in overtime in January.
What about the RPI game, you might ask? Sure, it was a great come-from-behind win (three third-period goals in a 4-3 victory), but RPI is the ECAC's equivalent of the this year's Boston Bruins.
Harvard hasn't defeated a squad with a record above .500, and it is 0-4-1 against its next five opponents, so it looks as if the Crimson will be on the road in the ECAC Tournament for only the second time in the last 14 years.
Obviously, there's something missing here, and it's getting beyond the point of saying 'Oh, Mr. X was injured' or 'The ref beats his wife' or 'The pucks just didn't go our way tonight.'
Harvard is unable to put together two good periods in a row, and you just won't beat many good teams by doing that. Last night was just another chapter.
In hockey, you win as a team and you lose as a team. It's a harsh reality, out last night again it was Harvard's opponent who won as a team.
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