UPDATED: January 28, 2017 at 8:30 a.m.
ITHACA, N.Y. — When Harvard and Cornell go toe to toe at Lynah Rink, there’s always a few things you can anticipate.
Like flying fish and anti-Harvard chants for instance. Both are to be expected. Maybe not chants equating members of the Crimson to “UMass rejects” like one shouted Friday night, but you get the idea.
Yet there's also developments in the rivalry you just wouldn't predict—like a Harvard team with 10 shots through two periods exploding for four final-frame tallies, hushing a previously-rocking barn of 4,267 rambunctious Big Red fans in the process.
“This atmosphere is one of the best in college hockey,” sophomore Ryan Donato said. “The crowd is always into it, and any time you get a chance to silence them, it’s a lot more fun.”
Jake Horton, Clay Anderson, Donato, and Lewis Zerter-Gossage all took turns taming the crowd over the final 20 minutes of action Friday night, catapulting the No. 9 Crimson (13-5-2, 9-4-2 ECAC) to a 4-1 victory at Lynah Rink—its second win over No. 14 Cornell (12-5-2, 7-3-2) this season.
“I don’t remember the last time we played a third period like that coming in down a goal,” co-captain Alexander Kerfoot said. “It showed a lot out of our team today. Up and down the lineup, all four lines contributing.”
Those four lines looked rather out of the ordinary on Friday, as Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 determined it was time for a change with the Crimson having won just one of its last five games. The coaching staff spared no line or defensive pairing, even subjecting its top two lines—which had not been touched all season—to upheaval.
“We just felt we weren’t really hitting on all cylinders,” Ted Donato said. “We just weren’t generating enough 5-on-5. The one fallback you have as a coach is to shake things up and move some people around.”
At first, the shake-up felt fruitless, as the new-look lineup failed to generate much for scoring opportunities, leaving Harvard down a score with 20 minutes left to play. But prior to the third, the Crimson supposedly took a look in the mirror.
“The only thing we can really control [is] how hard we work,” Kerfoot said. “It’s not acceptable to be losing games because you’re not working hard enough, so we just wanted to harp on that and preach that. That’s what we were saying between the second and third. And we came out firing.”
Just 2:20 into the final period, Horton set the tone for the closing stanza, jamming his own rebound past senior goaltender Mitch Gillam on the doorstep to even the score at one.
The goal was just the third of the season for Horton, but even so, he finished a distant second for the honor of unlikeliest goal-scorer Friday. Anderson, a senior defenseman, received that distinction, notching his first conversion of the season at 8:29 when his soft blast from the point skipped in off the skate of Cornell associate captain Patrick McCarron, who initially had his back to the puck near his goalie's left post.
Anderson led the high-five procession down the Harvard bench, but the referees initially ruled no goal on the ice. A review would reverse the call, but Donato remained visibly unhappy nonetheless. Prior to the stoppage, all the momentum had belonged to the visitors, and suddenly the Big Red had effectively been granted what he considered “an extended timeout.”
Suddenly trailing, 2-1, in its biggest home game of the season, Cornell took advantage of its chance to regroup. Already having scored the hosts' first goal during the middle frame, junior Alex Rauter took matters into his own hands again, coming around the left wing and beating the glove of junior goaltender Merrick Madsen.
But it wasn’t meant to be. “GOAL” flashed on the scoreboard behind the Crimson net, and the hands of every fan in the surrounding area shot up, but the lefty’s slapper from behind the dot clanged off the inside of the far post and remained out.
Beyond the Rauter chance, the final stanza belonged almost entirely to the visitors, who outshot the Big Red, 14-6, in the frame. Harvard's one-goal lead lasted eight minutes before Ryan Donato and senior Luke Esposito—playing together on the second line for the first time this season—dealt Cornell the biggest blow of the night with 3:22 remaining.
In transition, Esposito saucered what Ryan Donato called “an unbelievable pass” through two defensemen in the slot over to the sophomore, who went forehand-backhand atop the paint to double the Crimson lead. Zerter-Gossage added an empty-netter with nine seconds remaining to finish the job.
“I liked the perseverance of the group,” Ted Donato said. “I like the fact they were able to beat a very good team that’s been as hot as anybody in the country over the last two months in a tough place to play. I thought it was a real character win for our team.”
With the exception of Zerter-Gossage’s empty-netter, Harvard scored all of its goals 5-on-5, giving Ted Donato exactly what he claimed to be looking for from his offense. But it did take a while for the Crimson to get going.
In fact, while the opening two periods featured an electric atmosphere with no shortage of intensity, the shot count remained low for both teams, and the only puck to cross the line was merely the result of a defensive breakdown. Madsen tried to leave the puck behind the net for junior defenseman Wiley Sherman, but Rauter swept in, stole possession, and completed a wrap-around to open the scoring 4:22 into the second.
Yet Harvard’s third-period explosion gave the Crimson everything it had been seeking: a bump in the PairWise rankings, an increased cushion in the ECAC’s ‘first-round bye zone,’ and not to be outdone, a second consecutive win at Lynah Rink.
“It was pretty special to win here both this year and last year,” Kerfoot said. “You remember these moments for a long time. You hate the crowd when you’re playing and when they get up on you, but in the long run, this is great for college hockey, it’s great for Cornell, and we love to play here.”
—Among Harvard's many forward changes, Kerfoot moved to left wing on the first line, Donato moved to center on the second line, and senior Tyler Moy moved to center on the third line. Sean Malone and Nathan Krusko joined Kerfoot on the Crimson's top unit.
"When you play with the same guys for a while, you can fall into a little bit of a lapse," Kerfoot said. "I think this kind of freshened everyone up.... I don’t know if these [lines] are going to be long term, but I mean if we keep playing, well, it doesn’t really matter."
—On the defensive end, Harvard tried out a veteran pairing of junior Wiley Sherman and senior Clay Anderson along with two freshman-sophomore pairs (Adam Fox and Viktor Dombrovskiy, John Marino and Jacob Olson).
—Special teams were hardly a factor on Friday, as Harvard's top-ranked power-play finished 0-for-1 against Cornell's second-ranked kill. Similarly, the Big Red power play finished 0-for-2.
—Harvard outshot the Big Red, 24-20, for the game.
—Harvard has jumped from 13th to ninth in the PairWise rankings.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.
—Staff photographer Thomas W. Franck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thomaswfranck.