Despite losing its final two regular-season games to Brown and Yale, the Cornell men’s ice hockey team achieved its goal of earning a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs. Cornell finished behind Union, Yale and Dartmouth, who have clinched the first, second and third spots, respectively. The Red will take a much needed week off before hosting what is sure to be an intense quarterfinal game at Lynah Rink on March 11-13.
In Friday night’s game versus Brown (10-14-5, 8-12-2 ECAC Hockey), the Red (13-13-3, 11-9-2) fell to the Bears, 3-2, in overtime, after a flurry of goals late in the third period. In the first period, the Red had two 2-on-1 opportunities and a 3-on-2 chance that did not result in goals. At 10:45 into the game, Brown’s Harry Zolnierczyk took advantage of an extra-man situation to put the Bears up, 1-0, on the Meehan Auditorium scoreboard. Zolnierczyk was not done yet though — he doubled his team’s lead before the second period was out.
“They capitalized on their scoring opportunities and we didn’t capitalize on ours,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 regarding the beginning of the game.
Zolnierczyk has the reputation of being a tough player — leading the league with 109 penalty minutes going into Friday’s matchup. This weekend he lived up to his reputation with a hitting from behind penalty in the third period, which endangered senior forward Tyler Roeszler and resulted in Zolnierczyk being ejected from the game — giving the Red the opportunity to mach Brown’s score.
Ironically, within the last ten minutes of regulation play, it was the Red’s scoring that emerged from hibernation. Roeszler and junior forward Sean Collins found the back of the net for the Red, forcing an extra period; however, half a minute into overtime, Brown’s David Brownschidle stuffed in the winning goal off a rebound from freshman goaltender Andy Iles. The Red’s netminder made 31 saves Friday night, matching the play of opposing goalie Mike Clemente.
“I thought we got what we deserved,” Schafer said. “Tonight we had an opportunity to solidify our place in home ice. To come out and not play extraordinarily well and not be sharp and not compete [is unacceptable]. Even as we’re winning games in overtime, we don’t have everyone on board on the same night. It’s frustrating that we put ourselves in that situation here tonight.”
As the Red looks forward to its first playoff game of the year, the distance that the team has come overshadows its recent shortcomings. The Red has transformed from a struggling 11th place team in January to a top-four ECAC team in just two short months. During Friday’s game versus the Bears, the Red went 2-for-2 on the power play, an area in which it was previously struggling.
Cornell demonstrated a key competency during its last regular Friday game, namely responding to its coach after Schafer called a timeout at 2:05 into the third to refocus his men.
“We came out and felt sorry for ourselves, so I called a time out right away in the third period because I didn’t see the reaction I wanted coming out of the gate,” Schafer said.
The Red responded with two goals, demonstrating that it can listen to feedback and work off the experience of Schafer, who has seen substantial playoff hockey in the past 16 years.
In Saturday night’s regular-season finale, the Red fell, 4-1, at Yale’s (23-5-1, 17-4-1) New Haven, Conn. home rink. Cornell only had to match the Princeton Tigers’ results on the same night to snag the home-ice bye privilege of the fourth seed, which it succeeded in doing. Going into the night, Cornell, Princeton and Rensselaer were all tied for fourth, but Princeton was shut out by now ECAC regular-season champion Union and Rensselaer could not top Quinnipiac, earning a tie, 2-2.
“We bounce back all year long. All the games are close in this league. Whether you play Brown, Harvard, Yale, Union, RPI … Whoever you play, the games are tight. They’re hard. They’re difficult,” Schafer said.
Both teams remained scoreless until the second period when the Millers on both teams began to trade goals. Andrew Miller of the Bulldogs scored first with a wrister that made a brief visit to the glove-side post before finding a home at the back of the Red’s net. The Bulldogs’ second goal by Clinton Bourbonais also clanked on its way past junior goalie Mike Garman. Broc Little added more insurance for Yale with the Bulldogs’ third goal of the night, receiving his breakaway chance after the puck bounced over the stick of the Cornell defensemen. His goal brought the score to 3-0 before Cornell’s lone goal of the night came from a short-handed goal by sophomore forward Greg Miller.
“Little flies in behind you all night long. He’s a good player and he does it very well,” Schafer said. “He’s the wrong guy for the puck to jump over your stick and land on his.”
“You’re not going to beat a team like that,” Schafer added, acknowledging that his team trailed Yale by 20 shots and at one point in the game had six penalties to the Bulldog’s none.
Looking forward, the Cornell players are focused on getting healthy and utilizing the advantage they have earned this season to enter into their next contest with intensity and consistency across their lines. Sophomore defenseman Nick D’Agostino was injured in the second and it is unclear yet whether he will make his return before the playoffs begin.
“We are two games away from getting to Atlantic City which is the goal all year long,” Schafer said, regarding what his team faces in the coming weeks.
Original Author: Rob Moore