One of the pillars of the Cornell men’s hockey program is selflessness. Sacrificing individual accomplishments for the good of the team is one of the biggest reasons why the team is historically so good. But on Saturday night, it was an honorable act that nearly cost the Big Red before junior forward Ben Berard scored the deciding goal of a 5-4 victory Dartmouth with 6.2 seconds left at Thompson Arena.
With 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining and Cornell leading by one, the team’s trademarked selflessness was on full display. Berard had maneuvered his way around a defenseman in the neutral zone and skated toward a net that had been vacated by the goaltender in favor of an extra attacker. He was coasting into the offensive zone with two linemates following him toward the empty net for what would have been an easy conversion to cap a hat trick and surely punctuate a Big Red victory.
Except he didn’t.
As Berard drifted into the left faceoff circle, he peered up to see that one of his escorts was freshman forward Kyler Kovich. Berard slowed his momentum to let Kovich catch up, then – as if ably defended by his own nobility – slid a pass across the slot for Kovich to score his first collegiate goal.
Except he didn’t.
“I didn’t want to be the guy to end-to-end with the puck on an empty net and not pass it, but obviously winning the game is more important than looking (selfish),” Berard said.
Five of Dartmouth’s six skaters had essentially given up on the play – but the one that hadn’t, Matt Hubbarde, caught Kovich just in time to deliver a stick check that turned a three-man breakaway on an empty net into one of the craziest finishes the college hockey world will ever see.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that. Ever,” said Mike Schafer ’86, now in his 26th season as the Jay R. Bloom ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Hockey. “I totally get Benny trying to get it to the kid for his first college goal, but …”
But it very nearly cost Cornell the game. The shock of the gaffe ignited the arena as Dartmouth transitioned to offense, but Berard once against collected the puck toward the top of his own zone. Trying to right a wrong, he whirled a desperate shot from 150 feet toward the empty cage. It went wide, bringing the faceoff back into the Big Red zone. Seventeen seconds later, Jeff Losurdo’s second goal of the night tied the game at 4.
“I was kind of in shock that I had just done that. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking,” Berard said. “Then they score to tie it, and I went from feeling like a really big idiot to the biggest idiot in the world that just cost us a regulation win.”
After the next two shifts, overtime was looming with 33.6 seconds on the clock and a faceoff in the Dartmouth zone. The line centered by senior Max Andreev was due up, but Schafer opted for a slight audible – sending Berard back onto the ice to play on the wing with Andreev.
“Ben’s responded to every challenge, ever. The more he’s challenged, the more he plays,” Schafer said. “He’s one of our best players. He didn’t mean to do that, and he probably learned his lesson. In the future, he’ll just bury it. … I’m grateful I did put him back on the ice, because it was a great (finish).”
The Big Green won the draw and worked the puck all the way into the Big Red zone, setting up a shot from inside the left point by Tyler Borsch. Junior forward Matt Stienburg came sliding out from the slot to block the shot, then poked the loose puck around Borsch’s lunge off the wall and into the path of Berard. As Berard sped away up the right wing, Stienburg drove up the middle to create a two-on-one rush.
“On a two-on-one, you’ve got to take what the (defenseman) gives. You can’t really pre-determine what you’re going to do,” Berard said. “But I felt like the pass wasn’t a 100% thing.”
So he did what he had already done twice earlier in the night – wire a shot over the goaltender’s glove. It capped his second collegiate hat trick, with the first coming in the what was ultimately the final game of the team’s most recent season on Feb. 29, 2020.
In myriad ways, it was an unfathomable way to end a game that had the early makings of an effectively mundane road performance. Cornell outshot Dartmouth, 17-2, in the first period and staked itself to a one-goal lead on junior forward Jack Malone’s first goal of the season. It was, undoubtedly, the Big Red’s best start to a game this season.
“We talked about (not) having a slow start. We played with poise and were moving the puck around,” Schafer said. “We talked before the start of the second period about ‘can you sustain the simple plays or are you going to start looking for something else?’ We started to look for something else.”
The majority of that Big Red dominance in the first came at even strength; the same manner of success did not continue through a penalty-laden second period. Before any of his three goals that did count, Berard had what appeared to be a power-play goal that didn’t count early in the middle frame when video review overturned the call on the ice on account of goaltender interference. Just 85 seconds later, Losurdo’s first goal tied the game.
Though Berard restored Cornell’s one-goal lead heading into the third period on a strike set up by a deft little pass from senior forward Brenden Locke in the slot, it took Dartmouth just 29 seconds to even the score again early in the third.
The forechecking prowess of senior forward Kyle Betts and freshman forward Ondrej Psenicka helped create sophomore Kyle Penney’s first collegiate goal about eight minutes later, then Berard’s second goal gave the Big Red its first two-goal lead with 7:36 to play.
Making his second collegiate start, senior Nate McDonald made 13 saves to earn the victory. The Big Red won a gaudy 69.1% of the faceoffs on the night, with all four centers winning at least 10 draws.
“I’m just happy we figured out a way,” Schafer said. “It was a tough loss last night (at Harvard). To come back here tonight and get the job done was really good.”