Yale goalie Alex Lyon already presented a tall task for the No. 15 Cornell men’s hockey team coming into Saturday’s game. Since making his NCAA debut as a freshman in 2013, Lyon has been one of the top netminders in the country and has taken his game to another level this season while posting a .945 save percentage and allowing just 1.45 goals per game coming into Saturday night.
The Bulldogs offensive attack needs just two goals a game to guarantee themselves a strong shot at winning because of Lyon’s strength in goal.
The Bulldogs (16-5-4, 11-4-3 ECAC) got those two goals in the Red’s net in just under five and a half minutes into the first period. With Lyon in net for the Bulldogs, that was it for the Red. On a night when Cornell (12-8-5, 7-7-4 ECAC) desperately needed to make a statement, Saturday’s 4-2 losing effort at the hands of an ECAC conference rival proved anything but.
Head coach Mike Schafer ‘86 took particular issue with sophomore forward Dwyer Tschantz, whose boarding penalty a minute in a half into the game led to the Bulldogs scoring on the power play to get a quick lead on the Red.
“I thought that the key play of the game was the real undisciplined penalty by Dwyer Tschantz [which] put us down,” Schafer said. “Just uncalled for. A lack of focus in terms of going into a scrum and hitting a kid. Discipline has been a real good part of our team all year. When you do that and get down against this team, we turn the puck over in the neutral zone and we come right back and didn’t play very well. [Then] you get down 2-0 [and] it’s going to be a long, long night.”
With Lyon in net and the best defense in college hockey on the Lynah ice on Saturday, the early mistake had the Red playing catchup the entire evening.
“They are a great defensive hockey team and have great goaltending,” Schafer said. “They use their speed to stay above you and frustrate you. I thought they played very well and getting behind against a team like that — it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s going to be a long haul to try to get back into the game. A real lesson on discipline. It just takes one person to screw it up for the rest of the guys.”
Schafer also took issue with the major penalty call on senior center and captain John Knisley 18:41 into the first period. The five-minute major for cross checking carried over into the second period and eventually led to Yale taking a 3-0 advantage and putting the game out of reach early for Cornell.
“I watched the videotape and I don’t know how you get called for a five-minute major,” Schafer said. “That was a brutal call. A kid’s stick was down on the ice and Johnny is 5-foot-7 and his stick blade is down on the ice and he gets called for a five-minute major, contact to the head. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t if they’re hyper-sensitive from what happened in the game, but that’s the first major we’ve taken this year and I don’t think it’s a major. I don’t even think it’s a minor.”
Knisley snuck the Red’s first goal of the night past Lyon when he went from end to end like a gazelle on skates and slipped the puck past the nation’s top collegiate goaltender. With the game handily out of reach, sophomore forward Alex Rauter notched the first lamp lighter of his collegiate career, good for the second Cornell goal of the game with 30 seconds left in the match.
Sophomore goalie Hayden Stewart entered the game after Schafer pulled junior goalie Mitch Gillam with the Red down 3-0. Stewart looked poised and polished en route to stopping 19 shots on 20 attempts and his relief appearance represented one of the lone bright spots on the evening for the Red.
“[Stewart] did a good job coming in and shutting the door and I didn’t think Mitch was very good tonight. That was one of the few games that [Gillam] wasn’t particularly sharp [with] rebounds and didn’t look comfortable in the net,” Schafer said. “It was a tough place for Hayden to come in and I thought he did a great job. We were down 3-0 and trying to create offense, [so] you’re going to give up odd-man rushes in situations because you’re going to press the issue a little bit. I thought our guys did that tonight, right up until the very end when one of our guys just fell down in the neutral zone.”
Overall, it was a disappointing weekend for the Red, who tied a mediocre Brown (4-16-5, 2-12-4 ECAC) — a team the Red needed win against as a weak, in-conference opponent — on Friday and looked relatively lackluster against the Bulldogs in a potential statement game. After the weekend, Cornell sits in eighth place in the conference, behind the likes of Ivy League rivals Yale and Harvard, who stand at second and third, respectively.
The ultimate downfall for the Red on Saturday came with the play from Tschantz early in the game, something Schafer wanted no part of during his post-game press conference.
“The mistake is taking a bad penalty to put them in a position to score a power play goal to put us down behind,” Schafer said. “There is the difference in the game right there. It’s a long night to try to get back into it. They’ve beaten some really good teams and they’re No. 10 in the country. We shot ourselves in the foot.”