February 23, 2004

Men's Hockey Splits Series in Capital Region

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TROY, N.Y. — When Rensselaer met Cornell in Ithaca on Jan. 17, the two teams fought a tight defensive battle that ultimately resulted in the Red suffering its first home shutout in nearly six years. Friday night, the theme of tight defensive hockey continued, but this meeting had a more favorable result for Cornell (13-7-6, 11-5-3 ECAC), which won its fifth straight game, beating the Engineers (17-12-2, 11-7-1), 2-1, at the Houston Field House.

Like the last meeting, the first period was scoreless, as defense dominated throughout. Neither team was able to produce any significant scoring chances, as the shots on goal were limited to a combined 41.

“With [Rensselaer goaltender Nathan] Marsters at one end and they way [freshman David] McKee’s been playing at the other end, you know it’s going to be a low-scoring game, and that’s what happened tonight,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86.

The second period saw a couple of excellent scoring chances for both teams. Four minutes in, sophomore Cam Abbott took an uncontested shot on goal from the doorstep, but Marsters got his stick down and deflected the puck up into the safety netting. Two minutes later, McKee made a sprawling save on a loose puck trickling towards the goal line on his stick side, again preserving the tie.

With 7:20 remaining in the period, senior captain Ryan Vesce and sophomore Cam Abbott led a breakaway into the Rensselaer zone. Vesce made a backhand pass to Abbott on Marsters’s stick side, but Marsters was able to make a point-blank save.

“You want to make sure in the first period you don’t give up any power plays, stay patient from that standpoint,” Schafer said. “I thought we did that. In the second period, I thought we came out, made a few adjustments, [but] Marsters made a couple of unbelievable saves.”

Cornell broke the deadlock six and a half minutes into the second. Junior forward Mike Knopfli sent classmate Mike Iggulden a quick pass as he crashed the net. Iggulden made a backhanded shot on net that senior Greg Hornby was able to redirect into the goal.

“My line had a good cycle shift, we were keeping the puck low. Mike Knopfli kind of forced it to the net there,” Hornby explained. “Mike Iggulden just kind of whacked at it and it came right to me. I was just on the spot right there, and put it in the back of the net.”

The Red doubled its lead just over two minutes into the third period on a power-play goal. With RPI’s Vic Pereira serving a two-minute penalty for hitting from behind, sophomore forward Matt Moulson took a hard wrist shot from the high point. Marsters, screened by a couple of Cornell players, never saw the puck coming.

Pereira’s retribution came five and a half minutes later. Conrad Barnes led a 2-on-0 break into the Cornell zone. Barnes fed Pereira sliding in on the goal, and Pereira backhanded the puck past McKee on the right to cut the Cornell lead to 2-1 at 7:41 in the period.

The defense took over from that point on. Renssalaer had a couple of decent scoring chances, all of which were denied by McKee and the Cornell defense. On the other end, the Red was unable to produce much offensively, as the Engineers very effectively matched Cornell’s defensive effort.

The key to the game, though, was Cornell’s discipline. The Red committed only three penalties on the game and was highly efficient on the penalty kill.

“We knew against them we had to stay out of the box, and we did that. We limited their power play opportunities,” Schafer said. “You just can’t give them unnecessary chances, you have to stay disciplined from that standpoint. They’ve got too many good hockey players to put them on a man-up.”

“I felt it was important to be disciplined. We didn’t want to be killing penalties,” Hornby added. “This team has a good penalty kill, they score a lot of goals on the power play. We wanted to play five-on-five, that’s how we like to play.”

The victory gave the Red sole possession of third place in the ECAC standings, two points ahead of Rensselaer and one point behind league-leading Brown and Colgate.

“It’s obviously critical,” Schafer said. “We knew coming on the road that if we wanted to keep up in the top four we needed to win every game that we can at this juncture in the year.”

Archived article by Lauren Haber