As senior goaltender Omar Kanji came onto the ice with 30 seconds remaining, the Lynah crowd roared. The Red had just scored to take a 4-2 lead over the defending ECAC champion, Union, on Saturday’s senior night. Kanji’s stint was his first and perhaps final regular season appearance.
“[Omar’s] been an unbelievable teammate,” said fellow senior and team forward Greg Miller, who scored four goals during the weekend. “Both on and off the ice, he’s just a guy you can’t say enough about.”
It was a special night for Kanji and all the Red seniors, as Cornell (11-13-3, 7-10-3 ECAC) wrapped up the final home regular season weekend with a 4-1 trouncing of RPI (15-12-5, 10-7-3) Friday and a 4-2 win against No. 20 Union (15-12-5, 8-8-4) Saturday.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said senior defenseman Nick D’Agostino when asked about his lap on the Lynah ice during the team’s post-game senior recognition ceremony. “It hits you pretty hard … [The] moment is here, and obviously that lap around the ice is something I’m never going to forget. That’s an awesome feeling.”
The Red got off to an early lead against RPI Friday when Miller scored after being fed by sophomore forward Brian Ferlin eight minutes into the first period. Sophomore forward Joel Lowry struck just a minute later to extend the Cornell lead to 2-0.
RPI dominated the stat line in the second period, due in part to four Red penalties. Still, Miller outraced the RPI defense — giving the shorthanded Red a 3-0 advantage — and Iles remained steady in goal as the Red entered the third period up 3-1 despite being outshot 17-4 in the second. Senior forward John Esposito put the game on ice with an empty-net goal in the closing seconds, cementing the final score at 4-1.
The Red continued its momentum against Union, scoring three times in the first 10 minutes of the game. Freshman forward John Knisely scored first, unassisted off a steal from a Union defender. Sophomore defenseman Joakim Ryan followed up Knisely’s effort just two minutes later with a shot that streaked past Union junior goaltender Troy Grosenick. Miller continued to give the Dutchmen headaches as he corralled a loose puck and scored on the power play to give the Red a 3-0 lead.
Although Cornell was outshot 32-16 in the final two periods, Iles made a series of diving stops to impede the Union offense. Still, after two Dutchmen goals in the third, Cornell faced the challenge of staving off a charge from the visitors. Miller made sure his last regular season game on the Lynah ice would be a memorable one, beating Union on a shorthanded goal to extend the Red’s lead to the eventual 4-2 final, pumping up the Lynah Faithful and securing four goals — and four points in the standings for the Red — on the weekend.
“It’s gratifying for the seniors,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said. “It’s gratifying to get the four points, but it’s [also] gratifying for our seniors to make sure that they get the right send-off throughout the course of the night.”
The weekend sweep marks the first time the Red has won at home since its 3-1 victory over St. Lawrence on Dec. 1 For the Red, which has gone 3-0-1 in the past four games, the recent turnaround has been a refreshing change from the frustrating seven consecutive losses the team endured in January and February. The Red’s recent wins have also given the team hope of making an impact in the ECAC Tournament.
“[I don’t know] fully what has changed,” Miller said. “Definitely our attitude. Obviously there’s more confidence within the team …. That happens in life and hockey sometimes. Everyone was losing confidence in us but the 26 guys in [the locker room], and that’s all that matters. We came together as a team and we’re playing for each other …. We’re one heartbeat out there, and it’s working.”
The Red is now tied with Princeton for the ninth spot in the ECAC standings. With two games left in the regular season against Brown (10-11-6, 6-8-6) and Yale (14-10-3, 10-9-1), the Red has an opportunity to gain home ice in the ECAC tournament. Perhaps the clearest scenario would involve the Red defeating the Bears in Providence next weekend and gaining ground on the Tigers (9-14-4, 7-10-3), who currently hold a tiebreaker in the standings via head-to-head record. Regardless of what happens as the regular season concludes, the team’s senior weekend sweep will not soon be forgotten by the players who have dedicated four years to Cornell hockey and the Lynah Faithful.
“It’s been a rough year, an up-and-down year,” D’Agostino said. “To come in here in two big games and get four points on Senior Weekend is pretty special.”
Original Author: Chris Mills