He may have claimed otherwise, but it seemed to most of those present that junior goaltender Matt Underhill was on a mission in the first semifinal match of the ECAC Championships at Lake Placid.
Less than a week removed from the announcement that Harvard’s Oliver Jonas had received the Ken Dryden Award for best goaltender in the ECAC, Underhill decided to prove to the voters that they had made a mistake in the only forum that really matters — on the ice.
The statement the junior made was pretty clear, as Underhill stopped 45 of 47 shots en route to backstopping his club to a convincing 5-2 win over archival Harvard that put the squad into the finals of the tournament.
“Matt Underhill had a tremendous performance,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said after the game. “He was very solid in the goal, as he’s been all year.”
Underhill, for his part, downplayed both the importance of the Dryden Award and his own part in leading one of the nation’s top scoring defenses.
“I play behind one of the best defenses in the country,” Underhill said. “Individual hardware is nice, but we’re where we are because we’re a good team.”
The story this night was not just the defense, but a Cornell offense that sprung to life and capitalized on the opportunities it was given. A team that had spent much of the season unable to capitalize on scoring chances made Jonas look like the sieve the raucous Cornell crowd was proclaiming him to be.
The night did not start exactly as that crowd would have liked however. While Cornell seemed to be finding its way on the bigger ice sheet at the 1980 Rink, Harvard began crashing the net and getting great opportunities on Underhill.
The Crimson actually put the puck past Underhill twice in the first, but saw both goals waived off. The first was an obvious kick, so much so that the goal judge never even turned on the red light and referee Dan Murphy immediately waived it off without any consultation.
The second goal that wasn’t meant to be was less obvious. Murphy had to go to the review upstairs to be sure that the net had indeed been dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line. The ECAC allows video review in the playoffs, something Schafer expressed his pleasure over.
“I think we were fortunate tonight getting a couple of goals called back,” the coach remarked. “Thank god for video replay.”
Another of the cornerstones of Cornell’s run for a championship this year has been the play of its special teams, and once again the power play proved to be the jumpstart the offense would need.
In a play that has become all to familiar, sophomore defenseman Doug Murray unleashed a slapshot from the blue line that classmate Sam Paolini tipped past Jonas.
The team followed with something it hadn’t done much of all year. The Red, seemingly smelling blood in the water, pressed its advantage and put two more goals behind a shaken Jonas within the next 2:37. Junior David Francis scored the first of his two goals on the evening when he found himself alone at the doorstep and put the puck past Jonas. His goal was followed a short time later by a breakaway from sophomore Stephen B