May 6, 2011

Gibbons, Pate Give Harvard Another Crack at Cornell, Pannell

by Brian Delaney |

ITHACA, N.Y. – Paul Pate has admired Dean Gibbons' skill set since the two went head-to-head in high school on Long Island – Pate a defenseman at Manhasset, Gibbons an attackman at Garden City.

Now, they spar often in practice as teammates at Harvard.

"The best thing about going against Dean is he's a physical player," Pate said. "He's also really smart. If you let your guard down for a second and mentally kind of turn off, he regularly exploits that."

Pate and Gibbons both stood out in Harvard's 12-8 victory over Penn on Friday night at Cornell, the first of two Ivy League semifinal games at Schoellkopf Field. Pate held Penn attackman and leading scorer Corey Winkoff to one assist, while Gibbons had a hand in five of the Crimson's goals.

The win put Harvard (10-5) in position to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. To clinch the automatic qualifier, the Crimson must beat No. 2 Cornell (12-2) at noon Sunday. The Big Red advanced with an 11-7 win over Yale.

"I think we're really starting to peak at the right time," Gibbons said. "These are big games. We're very fortunate to be in this game Sunday, and it's a very big game for our team and our program. We really just want to keep the train moving in the right direction."

Harvard led 7-1 by the nine-minute mark of Friday's second quarter. Gibbons assisted Harvard's first two goals, then scored a pair on man-up situations with perimeter shots that rifled past Penn goalie Brian Feeney. In settled situations, Penn coach Mike Murphy was largely happy with how his team defended Gibbons, who now has 30 goals and 28 assists this season. But Gibbons still found timely ways to hurt the Quakers.

"He's very complete," Murphy said. "He's a fantastic attackman. And by complete, I mean he scored a nice righthanded goal against Princeton [earlier this year] dodging down the alley, so you can't just sit on his right hand. He's a very good feeder, and his points are pretty even that way. He's very athletic. He can go through you, he can go around you, [and] he can go by you with quick first step."

Dean Gibbons had a hand in five Harvard goals, as the Crimson fortified their NCAA tournament hopes with a 12-8 victory over Penn.

Gibbons is now Cornell's biggest concern.

That matchup will be a fascinating one to watch develop, considering the Big Red's latest defensive gem. First, a recent history lesson.

On April 9, Cornell came from behind in the fourth quarter to hand Harvard a heartbreaking 13-12 loss in Cambridge. In four games since that outcome, Cornell's defense has tightened up significantly – beginning with an 11-6 win over then-No. 1 Syracuse and continuing with wins over Brown, Princeton and Yale.

None of those opponents have managed more than seven goals against Cornell, which forced Yale into 24 turnovers Friday. The Bulldogs (10-4) scored just three goals after a four-goal first quarter.

"I've never seen a team knock so many passes down," said Cornell junior Rob Pannell, referring to his teammates. "I was getting frustrated in warmups today. I was trying to get my shot on and I probably got three or four shots knocked down in like a three-minute span. I was like, 'Just let me get one on cage so I can get in a groove here.' They just kept knocking them down."

Pannell had one goal and five assists, including four straight points, as Cornell turned an early 4-1 deficit into an 8-4 lead by the late stages of the third quarter. Yale endured a scoreless drought of 29 minutes, 6 seconds.

Cornell goalie A.J. Fiore, who was pulled in the first half of last weekend's win over Princeton, rebounded to make 11 saves, 10 after the first quarter.

Cornell will play for the best possible NCAA tournament seed Sunday. Harvard, whose at-large resume is worthy of consideration, is looking at the championship matchup as a must-win scenario.

"We feel the only way we can get in is to win the automatic qualifier," Harvard coach Chris Wojcik said.

Gibbons, Jeff Cohen, Kevin Vaughan and company are certainly good enough to get the Crimson there. Like Pannell, Gibbons has more than earned the moniker of "nightmare matchup" thrown around by opposing coaches.

"Dean wanted it," Wojcik said. "He came out and was focused and driven and hungry, and he wanted this game for our team. He showed up, and he really carried our offense on his back." 

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