March 15, 2004

Knoepfli hat trick leads Red to Game 1 win

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In a street brawl that somehow turned into a hockey game, Cornell beat Clarkson, 5-1, Friday night in Game 1 of the ECAC quarterfinal match-up. Junior Mike Knoepfli tallied his first career hat trick for the Red, while junior Paul Varteressian provided the physical night’s crescendo with a gloves-off pounding of Clarkson’s Matt Nickerson.

With a week’s rest behind it, Cornell began the game with an uncharacteristic flare. The Red has often struggled in the first period of play this season, but entered the first intermission up, 3-0, on Friday.

The game’s first goal came after a flurry of activity in front of the Clarkson net, including a Matt Moulson breakaway opportunity that would act as a prelude of things to come. Cornell finally finished an opportunity when junior Mike Iggulden broke free at center ice with two teammates on either side. The three-on-two break developed quickly with Knoepfli possessing the puck to Iggulden’s left. The night’s offensive star went unchallenged to Clarkson goaltender Dustin Traylen’s doorstep, and eventually blasted a slapshot over Traylen’s glove side.

“We just broke the puck out, I came down the wing, I wanted to get it on net so we could get the cycle going. Luckily I found the back of the net, it was a great way to get it going,” Knoepfli said.

Cornell’s second notch came four minutes later, at 10:06, when Iggulden was able to win a faceoff in the Clarkson zone, sending the puck back to the waiting stick of junior defenseman Charlie Cook. Cook then worked his way to the right side of the faceoff circle and sent a sneaky wrister over Traylen’s near-side shoulder. The opening goals allowed Cornell to dominate the pace of the game the rest of the way.

“Knoepfli made a nice shot and then Charlie Cook made a great shot coming down off the face-off and all of a sudden it’s 2-0,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Goals come along with confidence and obviously we were on the board early tonight.”

The period’s final goal came at 15:40 when sophomore Chris Abbott grabbed a loose puck at the red line and weaved his way around several Clarkson defender’s, into the Knights’ zone. Abbott then crossed in front of Traylen and snapped the puck back past his stick side.

The prolific opening period was arguably Cornell’s best of the year.

“I kind of expected it, the guys practiced really well all week and we knew what we wanted to do coming in,” said freshman goaltender David McKee of the opening period of action. “I really honestly was expecting that.”

The second period was more characterized by a building of tempers, than by a building of the score. However, Cornell was able to break the scuffling mold as Knoepfli tallied his second goal at the 9:12 mark, to put the Red up 4-0. Cornell’s fourth goal came after a beautifully orchestrated cross-ice play from Cook and senior captain Ryan Vesce.

With the game well in hand, both teams became more committed to physical sparring and several incidents came to characterize a brutal night of hockey.

With six minutes remaining in the second stanza, Moulson was cornered in front of the Clarkson bench allowing Jeff Genovy to charge the waiting target. Each received penalties, for roughing and charging respectively.

After Knoepfli’s third goal at 6:26 in the third period and with a 5-0 mark now on the scoreboard, things became particularly fierce. At 10:39, a Clarkson player charged the net and finished his pursuit by pulling off McKee’s helmet. Instinctively protecting their goalie, the Abbott twins immediately retaliated and several penalties were handed out when the dust settled.

“I was just thinking ‘don’t retaliate.’ We already had the game in hand, it wasn’t really that big of a deal,” McKee said of the incident. “They were just trying to get under my skin.”

McKee played stellar all evening, garnering 16 saves, but could not hold the shutout. With 3:42 on the clock, Clarkson was able to get on the board with a power play tally from Jay Latulippe.

Still, the game’s frenetic action was not yet over though the score was finalized. With 2:05 still remaining, Varteressian provided the game’s real highlight. After being slashed by Clarkson bruiser Matt Nickerson, Varteressian became a man possessed. Finally seizing the opportunity, Varteressian grabbed Nickerson’s face mask and wrestled him to the ground. As each man got back to his feet, Varteressian’s gloves and Nickerson’s helmet both came flying off. The combination spelled defeat for Nickerson, as Varteressian was able to connect on several quick jabs before they once again toppled to the ice. As the crowd went wild, both players were ushered off the ice and into hockey fight infamy.

Varteressian received a game disqualification for the fight — which included a suspension for Saturday night’s game — while Nickerson was slapped with a double minor for roughing. Nickerson, having not instigated the fight and having not landed any bare-knuckled punches was not suspended.

“Both teams were going at it really hard tonight. Paulie took exception to being slashed by Nickerson and he went after him,” Schafer said. “I thought we did a good job of staying disciplined, for the most part, but there’s no excuse for Paul to go after him. But he got slashed on the arm and he’d had enough. It’s unfortunate for it to happen and we move on from here.”

The game ended uneventfully, with Cornell quietly grabbing a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

Archived article by Scott Jones