ECAC Hockey: Cornell-Harvard feels like a final

Cornell and Harvard have met in the ECAC Hockey tournament finals six times in the last eight years,

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A Cornell-Harvard matchup in the ECAC Hockey tournament this decade has been a common occurrence.

For the sixth time in eight years, the teams are playing each other in the tournament. Usually, the third-seeded Crimson and fifth-seeded Big Red are battling for the championship. Four times this decade, they have met in the final. The teams each won twice — Harvard in 2002 and 2006, and Cornell in 2003 and 2005.

The schools have combined for 20 tournament titles, with Cornell winning a league-best 11. So a semi­final meeting, like tonight’s game at 7 at the Times Union Center, seems a little strange. Instead of battling for a title, the teams are fighting for the right to meet the Colgate-Prince­ton semifinal winner in Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t [surprise me] a little bit,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “But after not having reached the final four last year for either program, we’re both excited to be there.”

Cornell senior forward and co-captain Raymond Sawada figured that these two teams would meet somehow in the tournament.

“It’s a little bit strange to be playing them in the [semifinals],” Sawada said. “I think we were going to be playing them either now or in the finals. [If we] get them out of the way right at the start, we’ll be pretty good.”

It’s a game that has Harvard sen­ior forward Mike Taylor excited.

“It feels pretty comfortable facing them,” Taylor said. “It’s an opponent we’ve seen quite a bit over the past few years.”

This matchup adds another chapter to the rivalry between the two Ivy League schools. Both coaches know all about the rivalry’s intensity. Cornell coach Mike Schafer played for the Big Red from

1982-86, while Donato was with the Crimson from 1987-91.

“Both programs seem themselves in a good light,” Donato said. “They feel like they can compete, not only in the Ivy League or in the ECAC, but on the national level. We both pride ourselves on having the ability of making NCAA appearances. Both programs have a great history of success, and great players that have gone through the program.

“Even though Yale is a tremendous rivalry for us in all sports, I don’t think they’re denying, in our players’ minds and our coaching staff’s mind, Cornell is a huge

rivalry for us. Lynah Rink, to me, is one of the greatest places to play in college sports, period. When Cornell is on our building, the atmos­phere is electric, also.”

Cornell (18-13-3), ranked 20th in the country, leads the all-time

series, 64-56-7.

“It’s just like any other rivalry,” said Schafer. “They’ve been there [in the ECACH final four] in Albany, in Lake Placid and Boston Garden. Over the course of time, they’ve had a very successful program. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a successful program ourselves. Anytime you have teams having success, it leads itself to having a rivalry, and the games have led up to those expectations in the games themselves. The games have never disappointed when the two teams have gotten together.”

The 16th-ranked Crimson

(16-12-4) took the season series from the Big Red for the first time since 1994-95. Harvard won, 2-1, Nov. 16 at Bright Hockey Center, and 3-1 March 1 at Lynah Rink.

Despite sweeping the Big Red, Donato doesn’t believe that will affect this game.

“We had two very hard-fought games,” Donato said. “These games are always very emotional. They’re two teams who are very sound defensively. They are also two teams that have improved greatly throughout the season. I think it’s a great matchup, and I expect to be a tight game.

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