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November 7, 2015

Penalties on Penalties on Penalties: Lack of Discipline Plays Major Role in Cornell Men’s Hockey Loss to Quinnipiac

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By JOON LEE

The Lynah crowd roared as freshman center Mitch Vanderlaan took the rebound of a shot from freshman wing Anthony Angello, scooped up the puck and promptly backhanded the puck top shelf past Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig. The score was 4-1 halfway through the second period and it looked as if the Red was going to put together a statement victory against the No. 5 team in Division I hockey and that after low preseason expectation, Cornell men’s hockey was a force to be reckoned with.

Then exactly 90 seconds later, Quinnipiac center Travis St. Denis put a puck past Cornell goalie Mitch Gillam and 40 seconds after that, Bobcats wing Andrew Taverner made a nice move to register the first of his two goals against the Red Saturday night. The third unanswered goal from Taverner and the Bobcats (8-0, 2-0 ECAC) came five minutes later on the powerplay and in a tick under six minutes, a potential statement victory for the Red was suddenly a tie game against one of most offensively dynamic college hockey teams in the country.

“We took our foot off the gas a little bit [after the fourth goal],” said junior center Jake Weidner.

The penalties began to pile on in the second period, and given that special teams marked the strength of the Bobcats squad visiting Ithaca on Saturday, the prospects of a victory grew slimmer and slimmer as more and more Cornell (3-1, 1-1 ECAC) players began to take trips to the penalty box. The officials, in the words of head coach Mike Schafer ’86 “dominated” Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss against the Bobcats.

“A lot of guys didn’t play tonight with all of the special teams that went on in the course of the game,” Schafer said. “There was kind of no flow to the game tonight. It seemed every time you turned around there was a power play or 4 on 4, so certain guys playing special teams and some guys sat for long periods of time.”

Throughout the game, both teams remained chippy. Several skirmishes started after the whistle. Late hits from both sides flew all around the rink. The Bobcats penalties that led to the Red’s three goals in the first period turned into Cornell penalties, seemingly almost at will through the badgering off the referees by Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold.

This shift from power play to penalty kill for the Red fell into the hands of what appeared to be Pecknold’s strategy. After Saturday’s game, Quinnipiac has converted 37.5 percent of their power play opportunities, good for second in all of NCAA hockey. On the flip side, the Bobcats ranks eighth in NCAA hockey on the penalty kill, killing off 90.6 percent of opponents opportunities.

Senior Christian Hilbrich said that the team let the high emotions of the game get away from them. The key, Hilbrich said, to the Red not letting this happen is mental toughness and work ethic.

“When you’re up 3-0, not getting ahead of yourself, because it’s easy to take your foot off the pedal and staying mentally tough is key to not giving them the momentum back,” Hilbrich said.

This lack of discipline prompted Schafer mess around with his last three lines frequently in the third period. Schafer moved up senior wing Teemu Tiitinen to the second line in the place of junior wing Matt Buckles while sophomore wing Jared Fiegl saw a significant increase in playing time after strong showings on the penalty kill units.

But the major increase in penalties in the last two periods of the game seemingly fell right into the hands of the Pecknold’s plan of attack coming into Saturday’s game. And the taunting from the Bobcats, notably from Alex Miner-Barron, of the Lynah Faithful after the game certainly indicated that, despite the early three-goal deficit, everything unfolded for the Bobcats exactly how they had planned.

“[The taunting] doesn’t surprise me,” Schafer said, “from their team.”

And now for the Red, turning that corner and finding a way for the team not to lose its grips, not take its foot off the pedal when up by three goals will prove critical to the Red’s potential success moving forward this season.

“We’ve got to show more discipline,” Hilbrich said. “We’ve got to run them out of the building.”

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