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UPDATED: JANUARY 24, 2015, at 10:30 a.m.
"The shot had eyes a little bit. And that's all it took."
ITHACA, N.Y. — Third-line center Eric Freschi scored with 40.3 seconds left in regulation to lift Cornell, 3-2, over the No. 4/4 Harvard men’s hockey team on Friday night.
With under a minute to go, Big Red (8-8-2, 6-5-0) senior Cole Bardreau pushed the puck up ice in the midst of a Crimson line change, catching the visitors on a 3-on-2. Bardreau connected with Freschi, who beat junior goaltender Steve Michalek nearside from the top of the left faceoff circle, sending the Lynah Rink faithful into a frenzy.
For Harvard (11-4-2, 7-3-2 ECAC), it was a frustrating finish to a game that led to possibly more important losses than the one on the scoreboard. Top-pair junior defenseman Patrick McNally and second-line sophomore forward Luke Esposito left the first period with injuries. Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 does not expect them to return for Saturday’s game against Colgate.
McNally and Esposito’s departures placed extra responsibility on an already-understaffed Crimson roster, which entered Friday without the services of both sophomore centers Alex Kerfoot and Sean Malone for the fifth straight game. After starting the season 10-1-2, Harvard has now dropped three of its last four.
“I’m disappointed,” Donato said. “I’m frustrated, but [I] mostly just feel bad for the guys because I know with the short numbers, guys were really battling.”
McNally crumpled to the ice at 5:58 after an errant Cornell stick tripped him up at the Crimson goal line. It was the second time in four games that the junior was forced to the dressing room early, with McNally having sustained an upper body injury against Yale on Jan. 10. He would leave the rink on crutches with a wrapped ankle.
Esposito followed McNally 10 minutes later, clutching his left arm after tangling sticks with Big Red center Jared Fiegl off a faceoff in the Harvard zone. He would leave the rink sporting a large ice compress.
In response to McNally and Esposito’s absence, Donato shuffled combinations, moving freshman center Eddie Ellis up to fill Esposito’s spot on the second line.
Jimmy Vesey opened the scoring two minutes into the second frame with his team-best 15th goal of the season. The junior forward sprawled around Cornell senior defender Joakim Ryan to put back a rebound created from the left point by freshman defenseman Wiley Sherman.
Yet the Big Red responded with two quick strikes off Crimson turnovers.
Bardreau found Michalek’s top shelf at 4:28 of the middle frame off a rush created by sophomore winger Jake Weidner. Junior forward Christian Hilbrich followed less than two minutes later, finishing a 3-on-2 low in the slot on a feed from freshman linemate Dwyer Tschantz.
The game’s physicality increased throughout the second period as Harvard struggled to beat sophomore goaltender Mitch Gillam. The Crimson spent six of the frame’s final 13 minutes on the penalty kill, and sophomore forward Tyler Moy shot wide on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the period.
The Harvard power play, meanwhile, continued its recent struggles, going 0-for-3 on the night and generating few shots on goal with the extra man.
“It’s certainly tough when you’re changing two out of the five pieces on your first power play going into a game…but there are no excuses,” Donato said. “We need to generate more opportunities, more shots, and it’s something we’ll continue to look at.”
The Crimson gained momentum in the third period as Ellis delivered an equalizer at 6:26 in the frame. The freshman netted his first career goal on a redirection in front of the net following a slap shot from sophomore blue liner Victor Newell.
Harvard held the Big Red to only three shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, yet the hosts caught the Crimson flat-footed in crunch time. Ryan stopped a clear attempt by Ellis at the Cornell blueline and forwarded the puck to Bardreau to gain a game-winning head step on a Harvard line change.
“The shot had eyes a little bit,” Donato said. “And that’s all it took.”
—Crimson staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mdledecky.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: January 24, 2015
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cornell's Joakim Ryan caught Harvard's clear attempt with his glove before Cornell's game winning goal in the third period. In fact, Ryan handled the puck with his stick.
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