For a team hoping desperately to exorcise the demons of last year’s ECACHL quarterfinal collapse, the Cornell men’s hockey team appeared blessed by the heavens on Friday night at Lynah Rink. Facing the same jerseys that vanquished the Red in 2004, Cornell responded vengefully in the opening game of this season’s quarterfinal rematch, blanking Clarkson for a 5-0 victory. The win extended Cornell’s national-best unbeaten streak to 15 consecutive games.
Special teams proved to be the decisive factor, as all of the Red’s scoring occurred while shorthanded or with the man advantage. Cornell sophomore Byron Bitz helped slay the Golden Knights with two power play goals and goaltender David McKee made history by claiming his 14th career shutout — overtaking hockey legend Ken Dryden ’69 for the career school record.
“We needed a solid effort from everybody, and I think we got that tonight,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It was a special teams game, and it was nice to get our power play clicking out there.”
The unlikely short-handed scoring streak continued for the Red, with senior Mike Iggulden playing a pivotal role in both of Cornell’s short-handed goals. The assistant captain created the play that allowed classmate Mike Knoepfli to bang home the Red’s first goal with a man down, and later added his own tally late in the second frame.
The Golden Knights gave little resistance to Cornell’s offensive outburst, allowing 29 shots on goal while managing only 20 of their own. After Clarkson goaltender Dustin Traylen’s show-stopping 91-save effort against Union last weekend advanced his squad to the quarterfinals, the magic simply ran out for the Quebec native against the Red’s sharpshooters. Five different Cornell forwards recorded a multiple-point game on Friday.
“There was not too much good on our behalf,” said Clarkson head coach George Roll. “We were very undisciplined. You get down four-to-nothing to that team and you’re not going to win.”
Knoepfli opened the scoring floodgates for the Red at the 7:46 mark of the opening period. With defenseman Ryan O’Byrne in the penalty box on a holding call, the Golden Knights were working the Cornell zone when a defensive miscue gave the Red a three-on-two shorthanded rush. Iggulden bore down on Traylen through traffic, bouncing a back-handed shot off the netminder’s shoulder. The ensuring rebound fell squarely on the stick of Knoepfli, who shoveled the puck in the net for his 12th goal of the season. The score also extended Knoepfli’s points streak to nine straight games.
“While shorthanded, our guys will sense the opportunity,” Schafer said. “If [Clarkson] makes a mistake, our guys are not going to just fire [the puck] down the ice, we are going to force the issue.”
Bitz scored his first power play goal of the game late in the first off a cross-ice feed from junior Matt Moulson. Feisty Clarkson winger Jay Latulippe had been penalized for clipping with under five minutes left in the period, setting the stage for Bitz’s perfect top-shelf blast. It was his fifth goal and 15th point of the year.
“I got a nice pass from Moulson,” Bitz said. “I knew I had to get [the puck] up in the air. It was kind of lucky.”
Luck had little to do with Cornell’s third goal, the product of a dazzling play made by rookie Topher Scott. Midway into the second period, the Red again found itself with the man advantage when Clarkson freshman Grant Clitsome was sent to the box for cross-checking. After working the puck around the perimeter, Scott sent a soft pass to junior Shane Hynes, who was draped by Clarkson defenders in front of Traylen. Hynes then chipped the puck past the goaltender’s blocker for the Cornell’s third unanswered goal.
The next penalty to be called implicated Cornell senior Charlie Cook for interference at the 13:22 mark in the second. However, rather than swaying the momentum in Clarkson’s favor, the infraction boosted the Red to its second short-handed goal. Iggulden and junior Daniel Pegoraro capitalized on a fortuitous two-on-one chance, passing the puck back and forth into the Clarkson zone before Iggulden whipped a shot past a diving Traylen.
“It’s always nice to bury a short-handed goal,” Iggulden said. “Special teams is something we focus on every day in practice.”
The goal prompted a ravenous Lynah crowd to begin chanting, “Dus-tin! Dus-tin!” and the rattled Clarkson goaltender was pulled in favor of sophomore Kyle McNulty. However, the change did not deter the Cornell offense, which posted another power play goal towards the end of the same period. On a bizarre play, Bitz found a loose puck in front of the net and poked it through McNulty’s pads.
With the victory, the Red positioned itself for a trip to the ECACHL semifinals in Albany.
“Our job is only halfway done here,” Schafer said. “We came in to win the weekend and we are only half there.”
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Senior Writer