After struggling in ECAC contests the past two weeks, the No. 13/13 Red (4-3-2, 1-3-2 ECAC Hockey) found success against No. 19 Michigan (5-7-1, 3-5-1 CCHA) in the Frozen Apple on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, earning a 5-1 victory.
“Our team has been struggling a little bit as of recent and coming on this kind of stage with all the distractions, I’m very proud of their effort to come out here tonight and secure the victory,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It’s a great job by our leaders, great job by our team by working hard over the last couple of weeks to turn this thing around a little bit — this is the first step.”
Cornell earned its highest scoring effort of the season so far on Saturday, starting off with sophomore forward Joel Lowry’s first goal of the game. Although only the first period, Lowry’s goal came on the Red’s third power play of the night. With 4:23 left in the first, the Red was coming off of a penalty kill when sophomore defenseman Joakim Ryan came out of the penalty box to end a four-on-four and start the power play. He passed the puck to classmate and forward Brian Ferlin who then passed the puck to Lowry, who shot five-hole and put it past Wolverine goaltender Steve Racine to give Cornell a 1-0 lead going into the second.
“The first goal wasn’t beautiful, but what Joel [Lowry] did is he put it on net, got it through traffic and we had people around the net,” Schafer said. “We’ve been talking about that urgency in practice and the guys had some really good opportunities.”
Cornell emerged strong in the second period, scoring two more goals. Freshman forward Teemu Tiitinen earned his first career goal off a pass from senior forward Greg Miller after 11:42 minutes of play in the period. After already assisting on the first two goals, less than three minutes later Miller was able to score one of his own. His chance came off a shot by freshman defenseman Reece Willcox, which was blocked by a Wolverine, but made its way to Miller’s stick for the tap-in. The Red left the second period up 3-0, although both teams were tied with 14 shots on net.
“On Teemu [Tiitinen]’s goal tonight he worked hard, he got open — that’s what we worked on in practice with the whole scoring thing, trying to figure it out,” Miller said. “He popped and he yelled and he communicated, I saw him so he just finished hard … I congratulated [Tiitinen] and said ‘this will be your first of many.’”
Throughout the second period, Cornell wore camouflage jerseys to honor the Wounded Warrior Project.
“It was unbelievable, to say the least,” Miller said. “It was such an honor and privilege to wear those jerseys and don not only the Wounded Warriors, but Cornell at the same time … Those guys are amazing and they don’t get a enough credit. They do so many things that we have no idea about, so it was such an honor.”
The momentum from the first two successful periods carried over into the third, when senior tri-captain and forward Erik Axell scored almost eight minutes in. Junior forward Dustin Mowrey passed the puck up the left boards to senior tri-captain and defenseman Braden Birch, who took a shot that was stopped by Racine, but Axell was able to get the rebound and fire a shot to the back of the net.
“I just think we came together as a team, which was great to see,” Miller said. “Tonight we knew we were under fire and we weren’t performing up to standards but all that mattered was the guys in the room and we knew we had to do it together and we had to stick together … We’ve been working hard and its great that it’s starting to finally pay off … This is no end point, this is a stepping point in the right direction.”
Less than two minutes later, Michigan was able to score a goal, ending junior goaltender Andy Iles’ chance at a shutout. Twelve of his 26 saves on the night came in the last period of the game.
“Tonight gave us a good idea of what we need to do to win hockey games,” Iles said. “We’ve battled hard for the last couple weeks trying to get this train rolling again and from our older guys to our younger guys, from our first line down to our fourth line, everyone did what we needed them to do tonight and we played a great Cornell hockey game tonight and it was a matter of time.”
Towards the end of the game, the Red earned another power play advantage. Although the team could not capitalize on the chance, as soon as Michigan returned to full strength, Ferlin moved the puck past the Wolverine blue line on a three-on-two with Lowry and Miller. Ferlin passed to Lowry, and while Racine anticipated his shot, Lowry passed to Miller who put the puck past the Wolverine netminder. Cornell came away with a solid 5-1 victory over Michigan.
“The last one was a tremendous play by Brian [Ferlin] and Joel [Lowry] and Greg [Miller] finishing it,” Schafer said.
Cornell played a disciplined game, only drawing two penalties on the night, but earning six power play opportunities. The Red scored on one of its power plays, and did not let up any goals on the penalty kill.
“It’s just one of those things, special teams go ebb and flow and tonight we get a couple and kill them all off,” Schafer said. “Special teams have always been a strength of ours and we continue to work at it.”
After playing against Boston University in Red Hot Hockey in recent past years, the Red’s victory over Michigan on Saturday was Cornell’s first win at MSG since 1976.
“It was finally nice to win down here, [after] three previous games, one in overtime tying BU and losing the first one,” Schafer said. “It was a great opportunity to come back down to New York City.”
The Red last faced the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament in March, earning a 3-2 upset win. This time, Cornell came away with a much more commanding victory over Michigan in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
“The environment was awesome,” Schafer said. “You come out of the game and you look up there and you see the red and white, you see the pride that people have for our university …
There’s a special bond at Cornell between the hockey program, its alumni, its faculty and its townspeople and there is not a greater place to put it on display than Madison Square Garden.”
According to Iles, the Red hopes for similar success this weekend as it gets back to in-league competition. The team will be facing ECAC rivals in Clarkson and St. Lawrence at Lynah this weekend.
“When you play a game like that you start to realize what you need to do and you form habits and offensive habits like we did,” Iles said. “We will get back to work on Monday and use this with a little momentum to try and finish off strong here this last weekend.”