March 22, 2003
ECAC Championship

Former walk-on leads Cornell to OT glory

Other Tournament Coverage

By Juan Martinez

ALBANY, N.Y. – Mission accomplished.

From the minute Tyler Kolarik’s goal gave Harvard a double-overtime victory in the 2002 ECAC Tournament championship game, the Cornell Big Red have been waiting for this day. They wouldn’t disappoint.

Senior Sam Paolini, a walk-on who battled his way onto the team, capped a dramatic Cornell comeback with the overtime game-winner that earned the Big Red the ECAC title for the first time since their back-to-back championships in 1996 and 1997.

Cornell 3,
Harvard 2 OT
Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

1-C Sam Paolini (11) PP
17:54 S. Bâby, R. Vesce
Second Period
No Scoring
Third Period
1-H Dominic Moore (23) EV
8:04 C. Johnson, T. Kolarik
2-H Tyler Kolarik (14) EV
16:14 B. Nowak, D. Packard
2-C Mark McRae (9) EA
19:27 R. Vesce
3-C Sam Paolini (12) EV
1:23 Mark McRae
H: Dov Grumet-Morris, 61:23, 30 saves, 3 GA
C: Dave LeNeveu, 60:39, 25 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: H 2/4; C 4/8
Power Plays: H 0-4; C 1-2
Attendance: 8,296
All-Tournament Team

MVP: Dave LeNeveu, Cornell
G: Dov Grumet-Morris, Harvard, and Yann Danis, Yale
D: Doug Murray, Cornell
D: Travis Bell, Cornell
F: Stephen Bâby, Cornell
F: Dominic Moore, Harvard
F: Brendan Bernakevitch, Harvard

“We’ve been disheartened from last year to this year,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, “and we’ve carried that will and focus for 365 days.”

Paolini agreed.

“The loss was definitely the driving force going into this year. It’s always Harvard and us and we felt we had to win the ECAC title to prove something. I know that loss changed my hunger for a championship.

“We had 13 guys stay [on campus] this summer. It’s unbelievable that so many guys stayed and dedicated themselves. We mentioned that before overtime too: ‘Remember all the hard laps and runs up the hill.’”

Paolini’s second goal of the game was the outcome of all that work. The Rochester, N.Y., native left Harvard defenseman Kenny Smith in his wake with a great blueline fake that sprung the winger down the left side. His slapshot from the faceoff circle eluded Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris.

The tally was also Paolini’s eighth career goal, and team-leading 16th career point, against Harvard.

“Maybe I could score more against teams that aren’t Harvard,” he said, “but they are our biggest rivals. Who better to score against?”

“I think I’ll have to start telling him that each opponent we play is Harvard,” added Schafer.

In the last matchup between the two teams, the Crimson were whistled for two quick penalties and allowed three goals in the first 10 minutes of an eventual loss. To a man, each player claimed to have learned their lesson, yet Harvard gave Cornell the man advantage just 57 seconds into this game.

Paolini scored less than a minute later – on Cornell’s first shot of the game – to put the Big Red up 1-0. The lead held until the third period when the Crimson mounted a rally that was finished off by a goal from Kolarik, who returned to the lineup from a separated shoulder ready to frustrate Cornell once again.

“I couldn’t believe we gave up the lead,” said Schafer. “We’ve done that only once this year, in a loss to Maine down in Florida.”

The Big Red, however, pressed on and pulled their goaltender, David LeNeveu, for an extra attacker with 1:17 left to play. Harvard had a chance to put away Cornell with 38 seconds left, but Brett Nowak’s shot hit a rough patch of ice and hooked a few feet from near-certain victory for an icing call instead.

Dartmouth 4,
Brown 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

No Scoring
Second Period
1-B Pascal Denis (8) EV
3:12 S. Mudryk
1-D Kent Gillings (12) EV
12:29 M. Murray, M. Wheelihan
2-D Eric Przepiorka (8) EV
12:51 C. Snizek, N. Szymanski
Third Period
3-D Kent Gillings (13) EV
3:24 S. Offers, P. Summerfelt
2-B Mike Meech (1) EV
7:50 C. Legg
4-D Hugh Jessiman (23) EN
19:16 Unassisted
B: Yann Danis, 59:55, 40 saves, 3 GA
D: Dan Yacey, 60:00, 26 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: B 6/12; D 7/14
Power Plays: B 0-6; D 0-5
Attendance: 8,296

Cornell’s Ryan Vesce won the ensuing faceoff back to defenseman Mark McRae, who ripped an unchallenged shot through traffic from between the circles that eluded Grumet-Morris and sent the game into overtime.

For Paolini, the game, not to mention the winning goal, was a dream come true, especially after how he started his career at Cornell.

“I wanted to come to Cornell for three reasons,” he explained. “For the location, for the atmosphere and for the coaching staff. I wasn’t guaranteed anything.”

“He talked his way onto the team,” said Schafer. “We told him that if he worked hard, we’d keep him.”

Paolini admits that he had a lot to overcome, but credits his father for providing a great deal of emotional support, especially early on.

“I didn’t play much my freshman year,” he explained, “but my father was always there for me. He’s definitely my mentor.”

The younger Paolini’s dedication to developing as a player and his struggles to make himself an integral part of the second-best team in the country is something he takes for granted.

“I felt I had to prove myself and I still do. I have to prove something with each game. This makes me feel that everything I did was worthwhile and that I made the right decision to come here.”

Tournament Three Stars
3. Tyler Kolarik, Harvard
Returned from a separated shoulder and tallied a goal and an assist in the title game. Last season’s Tournament MVP, when he scored the winner with a cast on his wrist, it’s a shame – and a scary thought – that he has yet to play a championship game 100% healthy.
2. Kent Gillings, Dartmouth
Followed up his goal in the semis with a pair in the Consolation Game. It was a fitting end to his college career, during which he and his classmates helped elevate the Big Green to its first 20-win season in nearly 60 years.
1. Sam Paolini, Cornell
His two goals in the championship game, including the OT winner, was a great example of what dedication and hard work will get you. He’s a good kid who deserved the moment and earned his place in history.


• Dartmouth defeated Brown in the Consolation Game, 4-2, with sophomore netminder Dan Yacey earning his first collegiate win.

• Dartmouth earned its first 20-win season since 1947-48, when that sextet went 21-4.

• Referee John Melanson, who officiated the Consolation Game, announced his retirement after 21 years as an official.

• Brown’s Yann Danis set the ECAC record for most career saves in tournament play (340), while also setting the Brown mark for most career saves (1,043).

• This was the fifth overtime championship game in ECAC tournament history and the second between Cornell and Harvard, with each team splitting the outcomes over the last two seasons.

• The combined weekend attendance of 15,232 was the highest two-day total for the ECAC tournament since 1992, when the games were held at the Boston Garden.

• Cornell has now captured 10 ECAC tournament titles, while Harvard has been runner-up on seven occasions.

• Harvard’s Dominic Moore extended his point-scoring streak to 12 games with his goal in the title game. Over those dozen contests, only twice has been held to a single point.

• Cornell is 3-0 on this season against Harvard.


On-Ice Introductions: It was quite a show put on by the Pepsi Arena’s crew for the introduction of the starting lineups in the Cornell-Harvard game. They turned the lights out, illuminated the ice with the four teams’ logos and followed each player with a spotlight. Think NHL All-Star Game meets NBA intros. Nicely done and it served to charge up the crowd even further.

John Norton, Jim Fiske and Sports Information Staffs: Each year, Norton and Fiske, fountains of hockey information and genuinely nice men, update the ECAC Tournament Record Book for our benefit. They combine with the dedicated sports information staffs of each team to provide us with the kind of information that makes all of us sound much smarter than we really are.

All-Tournament Team Voters: Ok, we’ll forgive Sam Paolini’s omission since the voting was completed during the third period of the championship game. However, the select group of media members that voted for this squad blew it when they placed Stephen Bâby (one assist) on the team over Dartmouth’s Kent Gillings and his three goals over the weekend.

Absentee Harvard Fans: Yes, we gave them a minus yesterday, but, trust me, they earned the sequel. The Pep Band, which at least provided some noise in the semifinals, was nowhere to be found in the biggest game of the season. There’s no excuse for that and even less of an explanation.

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