March 28, 2005

North Star Knockout

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The similarities were uncanny. Cornell’s men’s hockey team gained entrance to the NCAA tournament by virtue of its ECACHL championship game victory over Harvard. It played a typically Cornell game in the regional semifinal before going up against an arduous test in the regional final — one that took overtime to decide.

In 2003, Matt McRae ’03 put an end to the extra-long NCAA East Regional final with his game-winning goal 1:09 into the second overtime period against Boston College in Providence, R.I.

In 2005, however, the No. 3/4 Red found itself on the other side of such heroics. Minnesota’s Barry Tallackson sent the No. 7 Golden Gophers to a 2-1 victory last night in the NCAA West Regional final at the Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis and their third Frozen Four in four years. “They’ve got great players, and they made a great play at the end to win,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We haven’t lost a game in two and a half months, and it was a tough way to have a loss.”

Tallackson, a senior forward from Detroit Lakes, Minn., received a centering pass from Minnesota freshman forward Mike Howe as he skated in on Cornell sophomore goalkeeper David McKee. Tallackson took a shot on goal that McKee saved. However, the puck deflected right back to Tallackson, who wristed the puck over McKee to end the game 4:31 into the overtime period.

“Its just like every other play, we were just going out with a little more urgency to win the game, and this time of the year it is one and done,” Tallackson said. “Fortunately when it comes down to the playoffs, points come to me.”

From the very beginning, Minnesota (28-14-1) completed dominated the Red (27-5-3). The Gophers outshot Cornell, 14-3, in the scoreless first period. Minnesota had several excellent scoring chances on McKee before freshman Doug Krantz got off the Red’s first shot of the game five minutes into the period. However, as a capstone to a superlative season, McKee played one of the best games of his life. He recorded a career-best 37 saves and almost single-handedly kept Cornell in a game that Minnesota thoroughly dominated through the first two periods.

The Red’s powerhouse penalty kill was put to the test frequently throughout the contest. In the first two periods, Cornell took seven penalties and killed all of them. In what has become Cornell’s specialty this year, the team even scored its record ninth shorthanded goal of the season.

Sophomore forward Mitch Carefoot did the honors at 13:02 in the second. With sophomore Ryan O’Byrne serving a holding penalty, senior defenseman Jeremy Downs poked the puck free from an oncoming Gopher player, onto junior forward Daniel Pegoraro’s stick. Pegoraro began an odd-man rush, skating in on Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs. As he approached the crease, he found Carefoot to Briggs’s left. Carefoot wristed the puck top shelf, giving the Red the game’s first goal.

It was Carefoot’s second short-hander of the season. He also scored with a man down in the Red’s first game of the season, on Oct. 29 against Army.

“The puck just popped up to me in the slot,” Carefoot said. “I had to make a pass to Pegoraro, who’s a much faster skater than I am.”

However, any momentum the Red might have reclaimed with Carefoot’s goal was quickly negated by Minnesota.

Less than two minutes later, the Gophers’ Garrett Smaagaard dug the puck out from the endboards and fed it to junior Andy Sertich. Sertich took a swing at the puck from just to the right of the goal and slid it in under McKee’s leg at 14:45.

“It was a typical play, and we were moving the puck really well,” Smaagaard said. “I got it to Andy and he got it back to me, then I saw him break in the lane all alone so I just feathered it out to him and he was able to stuff it through his five hole.”

Throughout the second, Minnesota again outshot Cornell by a wide margin, 12-4. Again, McKee proved up to the task. With senior forward Paul Varteressian in the box for interference, the Gophers made their seventh power play of the evening their most active. McKee faced a barrage of point-blank shots on goal and denied all of them to keep the game knotted at one.

Cornell began to turn the tide a little in the third period, as Minnesota’s stranglehold on the pace of play began to ease a little bit. The shot totals were even in the period for the first time all game, 8-8.

“The strength of our hockey team all year was to figure out the other team,” Schafer said. “I thought we were able to take away the middle of the ice as the game went on.”

As billed, the game became a battle of goaltenders, as McKee and Briggs matched each other save for save, pushing the game into overtime.

“Cornell is a great team. Their goalie David McKee is outstanding,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “There’s a reason they don’t give up many goals. They’re great defensively, they don’t give up the outside and they’re obviously very well coached.”

The game put an end to the Red’s 19-game unbeaten streak. Cornell’s last loss prior to yesterday had been on Jan. 9 at Harvard. It was the longest streak in the nation. Cornell fell to 14-16-0 all time in 15 NCAA tournament appearances. The Gophers, meanwhile, improved to 12-4 against ECACHL opponents in tournament play.

Minnesota will face WCHA-rival Denver in the national semifinal on April 7 in Columbus, Ohio. The Gophers were national champions in 2002 and 2003.

Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Senior Writer