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Cornell staves off late Harvard rally to take series opener

  • / Updated:
  • Kyle Evans 

Four unanswered goals over the opening 25 minutes aided the No. 15-ranked Cornell men’s hockey team to an early 4-0 lead before it staved off a late third-period rally by Harvard to take a series-opening victory in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals over its bitter rival before a sold-out, raucous crowd of 4,267 at Lynah Rink on Friday night.

Junior forwards Sullivan Mack (one goal, one assist) and Ondrej Psenicka (two assists) both logged multi-point nights for the Big Red (18-6-6) in its first victory against Harvard at Lynah Rink since Jan. 18, 2019.

Fellow junior forward Jack O’Leary, sophomore forward Nick DeSantis, and freshman forward Ryan Walsh joined Mack in registering goals for Cornell on the night.

Junior goaltender Ian Shane made a game-high 22 saves en route to his 18th win of the season and the 45th of his collegiate career. Shane’s victory tied Jason Elliott for the 10th-most victories by a Big Red netminder in program history.

Joe Miller (two goals) and Ben MacDonald (two assists) each registered multiple points and sophomore goaltender Aku Koskenvuo stopped 19 Cornell shots in the setback for the Crimson (7-18-6).

“We had a good first 30 minutes and did a pretty good job in the second period, and by the third period, we didn’t start poorly, but the goal they got to make it 4-2, they got some push. We handled it okay at times and we didn’t handle it okay, but the guys know we can be better than we were tonight,” said Mike Schafer ’86, the Jay R. Bloom ’77 Head Coach of Cornell Men’s Ice Hockey. “Especially when we got the lead, we stopped moving our feet defensively and offensively, and on the forecheck, we didn’t stay aggressive and play with poise. We’ll be better tomorrow night.”

Cornell opened the scoring right at the 4:30 mark of the first period. Freshman defenseman Ben Robertson caused a Harvard turnover inside the neutral zone to set up O’Leary for a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that ricocheted off the skate of a Harvard defender and beat Koskenvuo.

Nearly three minutes later, Cornell doubled its lead as the Big Red pounced on a loose puck following a sprawling save by Koskenvuo on a backhanded shot by Mack. Freshman forward Jonathan Castagna chipped the puck back to Mack, avenging his first attempt.

Walsh increased Cornell’s lead to 3-0, benefiting from a loose puck at the base of the left faceoff circle. The freshman’s snapshot beat Koskenvuo to his high glove side with 38.6 seconds left in the period.

The last of Cornell’s four unanswered goals came in the final 30 seconds of a Big Red power play. DeSantis sent a pass toward the middle of the slot and the puck deflected off the skate of Harvard defenseman Ian Moore, catching Koskenvuo off guard to expand the Big Red’s lead.

Miller posted the first of his two goals past the halfway point of the contest, proving to be the first of three unanswered Harvard goals. Casey Severo trimmed the Crimson’s deficit to 4-2 nearly five minutes into the third period before Miller added his latter marker at 13:39.

Shane made an incredible sprawling save on a one-timed shot by Marek Hejduk in the middle of the right faceoff circle with under 50 seconds left in the contest while Harvard had an extra attacker.

Harvard continued to apply offensive zone pressure following the save, but the Big Red’s defense stood tall and prevented the Crimson from registering the late game-tying goal.

GAME NOTES
• Friday was the 165th all-time meeting between the bitter Ivy League and ECAC Hockey rivals. Cornell boosted its lead in the series to 81-71-13 and has won consecutive games over the Crimson for the first time since stringing three wins together between Dec. 1, 2018, and Dec. 6, 2019.

• The victory was Cornell’s first over the Crimson in a playoff setting since ensuring a sweep of Harvard in a best-of-three quarterfinal series on March 13, 2010, 3-0.

• Cornell’s four goals against Harvard were the most versus the Crimson since posting a 4-2 victory at Bright-Landry Hockey Center on Nov. 11, 2011. Harvard had held the Big Red to three goals or less in its last 27 meetings.

• It was also Cornell’s highest scoring output against Harvard on home ice since defeating the Crimson, 5-1, in the first game of the 2010 best-of-three quarterfinal series.

• All-time in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, Cornell now owns a 59-21-3 record (.729) and has won its last three games in the quarterfinals, dating back to last year’s two-game sweep of Clarkson.

• With Walsh’s first-period goal and Robertson’s first-period assist, the freshman duo joined classmate Jonathan Castagna in becoming the first Cornell freshmen trio to have 20-plus points in the same season in program history. Cornell is one of seven Division I programs with three first-year players with 20-plus points this season, joining Boston College, Boston University, Denver, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Robert Morris.

TEAMS WITH THREE FRESHMEN WITH 20-PLUS POINTS
This Season
• Boston College (Will Smith – 18-39—57; Gabe Perreault – 15-35—50; Ryan Leonard – 25-23—48)
• Boston University (Macklin Celebrini – 29-25—54; Shane Lachance – 12-11—23; Tom Willander – 4-17—21)
• Cornell (Jonathan Castagna – 9-14—23; Ben Robertson – 3-17— 20; Ryan Walsh – 11-9—20)
• Denver (Zeev Buium – 9-34—43; Miko Matikka – 16-11—27; Boston Buckberger – 4-19—23)
• Notre Dame (Patrick Moynihan – 10-14—24; Danny Nelson – 9-14—23; Cole Knuble – 9-11—20)
• Penn State (Aiden Fink – 15-19—34; Matt DiMarsico – 7-19—26; Reese Laubach – 10-12—22)
• Robert Morris (Tanner Klimpke – 15-11—26; Walter Zacher – 5-17—22; Jackson Reineke – 9-12—21)

• Robertson’s assist broke his tie with Mark McRae for the third-most helpers by a freshman defenseman in Cornell program history, and also became the third Big Red first-year blueliner to record 20 points in his first collegiate season, joining Chris Norton (4-19—23) in 1984-85 and McRae (5-16—21) in 1999-00.

MOST POINTS BY A FRESHMAN DEFENSEMAN
Cornell Program History
1. Chris Norton (1984-85) — 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists)
2. Mark McRae (1999-00) — 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists)
3. Ben Robertson (2023-24) — 20 points (3 goals, 17 assists)

MOST ASSISTS BY A FRESHMAN DEFENSEMAN
Cornell Program History
1. Chris Norton (1984-85) — 19 assists
2. Bruce Frauley (1987-88) — 18 assists
3. Ben Robertson (2023-24) — 17 assists

• Castagna’s assist was his 23rd point of the season, marking the most points by a freshman player since Anthony Angello (11-13—24) in 2015-16.

• Psenicka logged his second multi-assist game, joining another two-assist outing against North Dakota on Jan. 7, 2022. Mack posted his eighth multi-point game of his career and the fifth of the season.

• With each player on the O’Leary-Castagna-Mack line recording at least one point on Friday, all three players increased their respective point streaks to three games, matching the season-long for all three players.

UP NEXT

Cornell will look to record its second victory in as many nights over Harvard on Saturday night. Puck drop between the Big Red and Crimson is scheduled for 7 p.m. Game action will be broadcast on ESPN+ and over the airwaves on WHCU (870 AM, 97.7 FM, whcuradio.com).

A Big Red victory on Saturday would clinch its spot in the ECAC Hockey semifinals, which will be held in Lake Placid, N.Y., at Herb Brooks Arena on Friday, March 22. Should Harvard win on Saturday, it would force a winner-take-all game that will be played at Lynah Rink on Sunday at 4 p.m.