History almost repeated itself in the ECAC hockey final Saturday night.
With less than four minutes left in regulation, second-seeded Harvard knocked in a goal that put the Crimson ahead of top seed Cornell. Cantab fans thought they were seeing a repeat of last year’s championship game, when Harvard topped the Big Red in a comeback victory.
But Cornell surged back in the game’s final moments and scored the tying goal with an extra skater on the ice in the last minute of regulation. At 1:23 of overtime, Big Red senior Sam Paolini blasted a slapshot past Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris. Finally, Cornell had followed its regular season championship with a win in the ECAC title game, 3-2.
Saturday’s victory in Albany, N.Y. sends Cornell to the NCAA tournament as America’s top-rated team, according to NCAA selection criteria. Nationally-ranked No. 12 Harvard won an at-large bid to the 16-team tournament field.
In the final, Cornell took a 1-0 lead into the third period, only to watch it evaporate with a pair of Crimson goals. Tyler Kolarik, who notched the game-winning goal in 2002’s final, stuffed a go-ahead goal past Cornell’s Dave LeNeveu at 16:14 of the third period. Mark McRae scored the tying goal for the Big Red with just 33 seconds left in regulation.
The ECAC final closed an exciting three weekends of tournament play. In the semifinals on Friday, Cornell defeated the fifth-seeded Brown Bears, who had upset Yale in the prior weekend’s games. The Big Red allowed only 11 shots, and LeNeveu, an ECAC co-player of the year, earned his ninth shutout of the season, 2-0.
Harvard beat third-seed Dartmouth, despite a rare goal on a penalty shot by the Big Green’s Mike Murray. Dartmouth fought back from a 4-1 deficit, but eventually lost, 5-3.
Although the final pitted the league’s top two teams against each other, the first round of playoffs, March 7 to March 9, produced several upsets. Sixth-seeded Union lost two games on its home ice to regional rival eleventh-seed RPI. The Engineers’ Ben Barr scored two shorthanded goals in the series’ deciding game, leaving the Dutchmen dumbfounded. Tenth-seeded Vermont also produced a mild upset, defeating seventh-seeded Clarkson at the Golden Knights’ Cheel Arena.
The second round produced less surprises. Brown’s win over Yale was the sole upset. Cornell and Harvard both made short work of their opponents.
Dartmouth took longer — much longer — to beat Colgate in the other playoff series. Game 1 of the series went into quadruple overtime, when Colgate finally won. The game was the third-longest in NCAA history. The Big Green turned around and won two games to advance to the ECAC final four.
On Sunday night, when all of college hockey’s six league tournaments were complete, the NCAA selection committee released the national tournament bracket. The Big Red will face nationally-ranked No. 9 Minnesota State-Mankato in the East Regional in Providence, R.I., March 29. If they can beat the Mavericks and then top the winner of the Boston College-Ohio State game, Cornell will be the first team to represent the ECAC in the Frozen Four since 2000. The NCAA hockey final will be played in Buffalo April 5.
The Cantabs play No. 7 Boston University in Worcester, Mass., March 28. If they upset Boston, they will face either New Hampshire or St. Cloud State in the next round.