It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but No. 1 Cornell men’s hockey defeated Union 4-3 on Friday to extend its unbeaten streak to 11 games and push its ECAC lead to three points, helped in part by second-place No. 3 Clarkson’s defeat at the hands of Quinnipiac.
The Red (19-2-1, 13-1-1 ECAC) came out firing, netting two goals in the first 13 minutes of play. Senior forward Alex Rauter got the scoring started first, blasting in a sizzler from just inside the blue line on the second of three Cornell power-play opportunities in the opening frame.
But after a second-period offensive outburst, Union (15-13-1, 10-5-0) erased Cornell’s lead. In the final frame, the hero was freshman forward Brendan Locke, who collected a rebound and fired into the net for the go-ahead goal with under three minutes to play.
Classmate Matt Galajda and the defense in front of him successfully kept the Dutchmen, who were sporting an extra attacker, at bay in the ensuing minutes to secure the 4-3 victory. During the Red’s traditional postgame center-ice salute, the team was showered with chants of “number one” by the Lynah Faithful.
“When we went up 2-0 we thought it was going to be easier than it was,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They came right back out in the second period and had pushback right from the opening draw… We took a couple of undisciplined penalties and they capitalized.”
Rauter’s first-period goal and Locke’s game-winner were a welcome sight for a power play unit that has struggled recently to find the back of the net.
“We’ve gotten one or two power play goals this whole second half of January,” Schafer said. “It was what carried the day for us [tonight].”
Later in the first, after a beautiful setup by junior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan, senior forward and alternate captain Jared Fiegl buried a pass from freshman defender Alex Green for his first goal of the season.
“It felt, obviously, amazing, but long time coming,” Fiegl said. “I felt like I was almost there, just needed to keep pushing.”
After Cornell seemed in control after the opening frame, the Dutchmen immediately took over in the second, cutting the Red’s lead in half before two minutes had elapsed. But only 28 seconds later, Cornell fired back when sophomore forward Noah Bauld tallied his fifth of the year to restore the Red’s two-goal lead.
But Union wasn’t done. Ryan Scarfo scored his seventh power-play goal of the season after just over five minutes had passed in the period, and Ryan Walker tied it for the Dutchmen with another power play tally about eight game minutes later. Just like that, the Red’s commanding start to the contest had been entirely erased.
“We kind of laid off. I think once we got the 2-0 lead we stopped moving our feet and stopped doing our process,” Locke said. “We weren’t getting pucks down low, we kind of let them get back in the game.”
Locke — who centers a line with prominent goal-scorers junior Anthony Angello and Vanderlaan — appeared to answer back and regain the Cornell lead late in the second period, but his goal was reviewed and waved off for goaltender interference.
His heroics would have to wait.
“It was a good play down low by [Vanderlaan] to get that puck to me and put it in,” Locke said. “I don’t think there was goalie interference, but that’s the way it goes … I got another chance and made sure to bury it again, and luckily that was the game winner.”
After allowing just one goal in his previous 12 periods, Galadja — the reigning ECAC Rookie and Goaltender of the Month — surrendered three in the second period alone. But Schafer acknowledged that the blame did not rest on Galajda’s shoulders alone; the overall defensive effort was significantly at fault.
“His teammates didn’t help him much tonight,” Schafer said. “He had two rebound goals right down in front of him.”
Despite the palpable change in momentum following Union’s trio of goals, the men of Cornell maintained their steadfast resilience that has been such an integral part of this season’s success.
“There wasn’t such a panic, there weren’t any worries,” Fiegl said. “In our minds we knew we were going to win this game.”
Deadlocked at three, neither team could find an edge in a back-and-forth third period. Union controlled the puck early, but failed to capitalize on its opportunities.
In the periods second half, it was all Cornell, and despite one scoring chance after another, the Red just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net for the lead.
While he was kept mostly silent on offense on Saturday, Angello — who has been such a dynamic force during the Red’s 11-game unbeaten streak — drew a late penalty that set up a Cornell power-play with about three minutes left.
Determined to show the country its No. 1 ranking was no fluke, the Red’s offense went to work. After a slew of offensive chances had Cornell banging on the door, Locke collected a rebound and hammered it home.
And this time it counted, for the freshman standout’s second career game-winning goal.
The Red is back in action Saturday against Rensselaer with a 7 p.m. puck drop at Lynah.