November 17, 2012 by Casey Hart
The season is young, but that was a big win for No. 17 Harvard Friday night at No. 10 Cornell.
The Crimson (4-2-0, 3-2-0 ECAC Hockey) notched a 4-1 victory against the equally desperate Big Red (3-3-1, 1-3-1) in front of the usual fish-throwing, sellout crowd at Lynah Rink. Five different players accounted for the game’s five goals, including members of each of Harvard’s four forward lines.
• This one was about more than the rivalry. Few atmospheres in college hockey can beat a Harvard-Cornell tilt in Ithaca, N.Y., thanks to the schools’ historical dominance of ECAC Hockey and a special disdain held by each team’s fans toward the other squad. The late-season meeting between the teams usually has playoff or regular-season-title implications, while the early matchup is more about bragging rights and momentum.
Both teams really needed this game, though. Harvard was coming off a 4-0 smothering of Rensselaer but had suffered lopsided losses in both of its previous games against teams that figure to be in the mix for an NCAA berth. Cornell, meanwhile, was winless in its last three games and came away pointless from last weekend’s road trip to Princeton and Quinnipiac last weekend. Credit the Crimson with the clutch win in its first road game of the year. A pair of freshmen, Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo, teamed up for the all-important third Harvard goal after Mike Seward, another player skating at Lynah for the first time, netted the game-winner.
• Several teams—Quinnipiac at 3-0-0, Dartmouth at 4-1-0, Princeton at 2-0-1 and Union at 3-1-0—are off to hot starts in ECAC play, so the win allowed the Crimson to keep pace, two points out of first place. Cornell, meanwhile, finds itself in an early hole with just three points through five league games.
• Harvard won each period by one goal, but each frame followed its own storyline. The Big Red owned an 11-7 shots edge in the first period, but the Crimson clearly controlled the run of play and had more scoring chances. Things were very different in the second period, Cornell’s best. The Big Red held a 12-5 advantage in shots that was indicative of its territorial advantage, but Harvard weathered the storm and Conor Morrison caused a big turnover in the Cornell zone that led to Criscuolo’s life-sapping goal late in the period. The shot count was again 12-5 in Cornell’s favor in third period, but the Big Red didn’t threaten much outside of their two early power plays and a late push with time running out. Maybe it was the two-goal cushion, but Harvard seemed comfortable throughout the final stanza.
• Cornell, meanwhile, needs more from its forwards. None of its leading scorers could get a shot by Raphael Girard, as John Knisley scored the Big Red’s only goal on 35 shots. Entering the year, there was reason for optimism for a Cornell offense that returned a high percentage of its scoring from last season. Several of those players have continued to produce at a decent rate, but no one is leading the way with star-caliber numbers so far. Based on last year’s statistics, Greg Miller and Brian Ferlin seem to be the prime candidates, and each had four shots Friday.
• The key stretch of the game was obviously the 58-second sequence in the opening period in which the teams combined for three goals. Earlier, Patrick McNally hit the post on a power-play point shot and Alex Fallstrom nearly scored on a two-on-one. Those two kept at it and joined forces to finally put Harvard on top at the 14:32 mark, when McNally carried the puck to the net and shoveled it across the crease to Fallstrom for the high finish.
There are few (no?) buildings in college hockey where a goal swings the momentum like at Lynah Rink. With the low ceiling and packed-in fans, the energy of the crowd is always palpable. Knisley’s slap-shot goal just 26 seconds after Fallstrom’s tally would have stolen back the momentum were it not for Seward’s wrister from the slot after another 32 seconds and a Tommy O’Regan pass from the wall.
• Another turning point came at the tail end of a Crimson power play in the second period, when John Esposito picked up the puck at the defensive blue line and raced forward for a breakaway that could have tied the game. He tried to shoot high on Girard but missed to the short side.
• The game featured seven power plays, including a three-second percentage-killer for Harvard at the end, and none led to goals. The chances proved crucial to how the game played out, though. Cornell was called for a penalty on the game’s first shift, and Harvard rode the momentum from a couple early scoring opportunities to a strong first period. The Crimson created some good chances on its lone man advantage of the second period but Esposito’s shorthanded threat swung the needle back in the Big Red’s favor. Harvard killed a pair of consecutive penalties in the third period, a stretch that could help the team build confidence going forward.
• Raphael Girard bounced back well and played a great game following a goal he would probably like to have back. He has surrendered one goal on 59 shots over the last two games.
• It’s been said before (and often), but these Harvard freshmen are pretty good. I’ve said before (and often) that big-bodied Jimmy Vesey bears some resemblance on the ice to his predecessor as the Crimson’s No. 19, All-American Alex Killorn. With one of his first touches of the puck Friday, Vesey used Killorn’s signature curl across the top of the circles to get off a shot. He later made a nice play to set up Criscuolo, waiting just long enough to make Andy Iles think shot before passing to his fellow rookie for the one-timer. Vesey now has eight points (5-3-8) in six collegiate games and leads the nation’s freshmen with 1.33 points per outing, while Criscuolo has four points (3-1-4).
Greg Gozzo, another rookie, assisted on Seward’s goal and later showed off some upperclass strength by fending off a defender in the corner and flicking a one-handed feed to O’Regan in front for a good chance that was saved by Iles. Freshman defenseman Desmond Bergin had a +3 night, as did McNally, his sophomore partner.
• Two players scored the first goals of their collegiate careers in different fashions. Knisley was undoubtedly happy to bury a slapper in the most highly anticipated game of the Cornell regular season. Harvard’s Petr Placek, on the other hand, was awarded his first goal after being tripped by Nick D’Agostino as he took the puck in on an empty net. It’s not exactly how the Czech forward imagined it, but he deserves credit for showing enough improvement to end up on the ice with a final-minute lead and for assertively taking the puck toward the net to burn more clock and make sure he finished the chance.
• Placek and two players who have usually played as defensemen, Brendan Rempel and John Caldwell, skated on Harvard’s beefy fourth line. The members of that trio weigh in at an average of 215 pounds with an average height over 6 feet 3 inches. Caldwell notched a great shift in the final minutes, forechecking the Big Red in both corners of the offensive zone and burning nearly a half-minute of clock. Another defenseman, Danny Fick, skated at forward during a third-period penalty kill when one of Harvard’s normal penalty-killing forwards, Morrison, was in the box and another, Colin Blackwell, was back in Cambridge with an injury.
UPDATE: Brendan Roche, formerly of WHRB, points out that Fick killed penalties at forward earlier in the game and last weekend. The more defense, the better, I guess, and Fick would certainly be one to break forward if the opportunity presented itself. Harvard coach Ted Donato has a deep, experienced defensive corps, and he is finding creative ways to use all of those players.
• Thank you, NBC Sports Network, for bringing us this matchup in high definition, with NHL announcers Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire on the call.
• One of my favorite memories during my time working with the Harvard team was the bus ride home after winning at a thriller at Cornell in 2006, when we watched the tape of the TV broadcast. The Crimson undoubtedly enjoyed the ride after this win, but it was to Hamilton, N.Y., for another challenging game Saturday night at Colgate. Cornell will also have its hands full hosting No. 12 Dartmouth.