March 25, 2002

Underhill shuts out RPI, 3-0

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – In a game that was a microcosm of the men’s hockey team’s season, Cornell coupled a brilliant defensive effort with opportunistic offense to score a decisive 3-0 victory against Rensselear Polytechnic Institute.

The Red’s stingy defense was the story of the game tonight as the corps shut down the ECAC’s best one-two scoring tandem in Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie, thwarting Murley’s promise of revenge against a Cornell squad that twice defeated the Engineers during the regular season.

“It was a typical game for us. We had very good balance on all four lines and good contributions from guys that don’t normally get the headlines,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said.

Indeed, the Red found two of its three goals from an unlikely source — freshman defenseman Charlie Cook, who netted his first and second collegiate goals in the game. The Red drew first blood just under five minutes into the contest on the power play. Freshman Mike Knoepfli sent a crisp pass from the right faceoff circle to Cook who shot it from the point.

“It was amazing,” Cook said. “I’ve been around the net all year and I just wasn’t getting it in.”

Unable to match up one-on-one with the Engineers potent offense, Cornell relied on a combination of discipline and communication to stymie RPI’s scoring potential.

“As has been all year, I thought one of the secrets of our success was our discipline. I thought it was real critical that we kept them off the power play,” Schafer said.

RPI mustered just three man up chances on the night.

“I thought defensively we played well as a team. We got our systems going and used that to create turnovers,” Cook said. “We forced them outside; we gave them a little and then we kept pushing them out.”

Although he remained largely untested for most of the evening, senior netminder Matt Underhill answered the call when needed. Moments after Cornell took a 2-0 lead on Cook’s second marker of the night the Engineers Steve Munn raced in across the blue line, but was denied on a point blank shot by Underhill. Questioned about the senior’s play between the pipes, Cook replied, “Undy, I love him. He always makes big saves. He does his job.”

The admiration was mutual, with Underhill lapping praise on the stalwart defense in front of him.

“Our defense was great and has been all year. It can be pretty easy playing in front of this team.”

Underhill finished the evening with 21 stops. Counterpart Nathan Masteres turned aside 24 of 27 Cornell shots for RPI.

Prior to the start of the tournament there was speculation that the Red’s defensive, methodical style of play would be a handicap on the larger ice surface at the 1980 Olympic Arena. Cornell’s performance appeared to silence any critic.

Reasoned Schafer, “I thought we actually took advantage of the big ice sheet. It has a lot to do with hockey sense. It’s not just speed.”

The Red kept the pressure on in the middle stanza, courtesy of strong neutral zone play.

Cornell was able to establish a strong transition game, which led to several scoring chances. On three occasions the puck wound up rattling off the post though. The best opportunity came at the 15:14 mark when senior Krzystof Wieckowski, who skated into the offensive zone unchallenged, clanked a blistering shot off the right post.

Cornell entered the final period with a tentative two-goal advantage, cognizant of RPI’s offensive potency and well-aware of the Engineers late-game comeback the previous evening against Dartmouth.

Junior Sam Paolini, the team’s most consistent offensive player of the season, was able to pot the decisive goal at the 7:06 mark of the third. After forcing a turnover at the blue line, Paolini fed classmate Matt McRae who fired the puck at Marsters. Paolini collected the rebound on the shot. Initially it appeared as if the RPI netminder recorded the save, but the puck slid out into the crease. Paolini fired the puck again, and this time he would not be denied.

“The third goal was huge,” Underhill said. “With a two-goal lead, anything can happen. I think the third goal was a little demoralizing for them.”

The victory drew Cornell a date with archrival Harvard in the ECAC finals.

Archived article by Gary Schueller