For an extensive play-by-play coverage of the game against UNH, click here.
NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden holds a special place in junior forward Alex Rauter’s heart. A New Jersey native and die-hard New York Rangers fan, Rauter dreamed about one day playing at MSG since he played in the ‘mites on ice’ game during a Rangers intermission as a young child. His passion for New York hockey dates back to his father, who named his son Alex in honor of nine-year Ranger Alexei Kovalev just two days after Kovalev won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994.
Saturday’s game against New Hampshire was not the first time Rauter got to live out his childhood dream — he recorded an assist in Cornell’s 3-3 tie against Boston University at MSG last year — but this 3-1 win against UNH certainly was his most memorable.
During the penalty kill, Rauter tipped the puck to himself up the ice and drew a penalty while driving to the net. In a moment meant for Hollywood, Cornell fans — who had been raucous the entire game — fell silent for this young player’s moment.
It came in the third period with Cornell holding onto a tenuous one-goal lead, and Rauter knew how to score on UNH goalie Danny Tirone; his opponent in net had been an old friend of his in grade school.
Cornell’s last penalty shot goal came back in 1987 off the stick of now-NHL hall of famer Joe Nieuwendyk ’88. Rauter had the perfect chance to end the drought.
Rauter faked like he was going backhand, then sent a picture-perfect shot past Tirone’s glove side, which he knew would present the best opportunity against a goalie he knew all too well. He then basked in the cheers from the thousands of fans like he saw his old idols do when he went to Rangers games at MSG as a young child. With a penalty shot goal, his childhood dream reached new heights and put the game away for Cornell.
— Full Court Press (@DailySunFCP) November 27, 2016
“It’s surreal,” he said. “It is something special. I think I will definitely look back on it. I was just happy my mom got to see it, honestly.”
While Rauter’s goal was the most poignant moment in an incredibly emotional game, it was not the most important. In an arena built for the highest caliber of players, it was an inexperienced freshman’s goal that proved to be the game-winner.
Forward Noah Bauld’s first career goal in the second period was the critical one, and he was on top of the world when he realized he had gotten number one.
“The feeling was amazing,” Bauld said, at a loss for words.
Despite all the glory that now accompanies this win, Cornell was in trouble early on in the game, yet again.
Starting slow has been a recurring theme for Cornell, and the trend continued against the Wildcats. UNH forward Patrick Grasso broke into the zone, heavily defended by junior defenseman Dan Wedman. Wedman brought Grasso to the ground, but the freshman was still able to score from his knees and continue his season-opening tear, netting his 11th goal of the season to put UNH up early.
Including Saturday, the Red had scored first in a game only twice this season — a win over Yale and tie against Dartmouth — but the squad was able to dig its way out of the early 1-0 quickly as the game developed.
“We got off to a slow start … but we buckled down,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Scoring on our first power play was key.”
Senior defenseman Patrick McCarron sat idly with the puck in the corner during the power play and fed a tangled-up junior forward Trevor Yates in front of the net, who was able to get a stick on it and deflect in the the equalizing goal. Yates’ goal marks his fourth of the season in eight games, while the junior had six goals in 32 total games last season.
“He has a little knack around the net,” Schafer said of Yates. “He leaned out over the summer, a little bit faster after dropping 20 pounds, and it’s paying dividends in his performance so far this year.”
Following the goals from Bauld and Rauter, the pressure fell to senior goaltender Mitch Gillam to keep the Wildcats at bay; and that’s exactly what he did.
Gillam’s only goal allowed was rather uncharacteristic for the senior to give up, but he kept Cornell afloat through the Red’s six penalty kills on the night. For Gillam, seeing plenty of shots early and getting into his groove was the key.
“They had some shooters and good stickhandling and they were able to attack me from everywhere,” he said. “But I like to get early shots quick right in the breadbasket to feel the puck and get used to it.”
Gillam went on to make 29 saves.
While this game will go into the standings as just another out-of-conference win, it was much more than that for the team. Leading up to the game, Schafer labeled the contest “not just another game,” and that mentality certainly showed in the team’s resilience to come back after being down early.
But even after a strong performance on such a big stage, Schafer’s first two words to the media in the postgame press conference were “rocky start.” He knows there is still much to be done this season, and no one performance can change that.
“UNH played a very good game tonight and [Gillam] made some great saves for us,” Schafer said. “It wasn’t a 3-1 game where we came in and blew the doors out. It was a tight game.”
Tight game or not, this win could help Cornell find the winning rhythm it has been looking for. With a quick turnaround and trip to Colgate just a few days away, this could be the perfect moment to begin a push towards the top of the ECAC.
And what better person could there have been to highlight what could be the team’s defining win than the hometown kid whose mom was in attendance. Once invited to participate in a Rangers offseason training program, Rauter’s chances at playing hockey at the professional level are currently up in the air.
But whether he does or does not crawl his way into the NHL, Rauter has made the most of his time living out what was once an ephemeral dream of playing at Madison Square Garden.