While not exactly clicking on all cylinders, the No. 2 men’s hockey team opened up play this past Friday at Lynah Rink by defeating the U.S. Under-18 National Team, 4-1, behind goals from four different Red players.
Although the visitors were able to keep the score fairly close throughout the game, Cornell’s size, maturity and skill seemed to eventually wear down the U.S. and give the Red the win. The exhibition against the U.S. squad was Cornell’s last chance to prepare for its regular season opening series against No. 10 Michigan State at Lynah next weekend.
“They’re young and they’ve got a really skilled team and they did do a good job out there,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It was a much better game than we would have ever had against a Canadian university team, so it was a good effort by our guys.”
The Red came out of the gates quickly and challenged U.S. goaltender Joe Palmer right from the get-go, peppering six shots on the netminder within the first 3 1/2 minutes, including a save on a shot by sophomore defender Sasha Pokulok. During a scrappy first period, eight penalties were called – four on each team – giving the Red’s power play and penalty kill plenty of opportunity to hit the ice.
Although Cornell was not able to capitalize on its first extra-man situation, it took advantage of a 5-on-3 chance after Rhett Rakhshani and Chris Atkinson were handed two minute minors for hooking and elbowing, respectively.
Senior captain Matt Moulson almost put the Red ahead on the ensuing power play off a one-timer from the point that banged off the crossbar. Seconds later, Cornell cycled the puck around the U.S. zone and junior forward Byron Bitz took a shot that Palmer moved out of position to save. Pokulok gathered the rebound and passed it off to junior Ryan O’Byrne, who hit a slap shot past Palmer to give the Red a 1-0 lead. Despite the final result, Palmer had an impressive performance, stopping 14 shots in the first period and recording 38 saves on Friday night.
“I thought the best part of his game was in the first five minutes when Cornell came out really [strong] and he made a lot of good saves,” said U.S. head coach John Hynes. “He’s a big, strong kid, he’s very competitive, he doesn’t get rattled in situations and I think early in the game, he kept us in it.”
However, there was nothing Palmer could do on Cornell’s second goal just over three minutes into second period, which also came on the power play. After U.S. defenseman Chris Summers was penalized two minutes for tripping, Moulson passed the puck to Pokulok, who was skating towards the net. Pokulok found Bitz in front of the crease, whose shot was saved by Palmer. But, sophomore Topher Scott was on hand to gather the rebound and beat the U.S. goaltender top-shelf.
“When our power play is working, everybody is moving, everybody is getting involved,” Scott said. “A goal like that was [being in] the right place at the right time.”
During the second period, Cornell had several chances to break the game open. Junior forward Mark McCutcheon ripped a shot that slammed off the crossbar 6:30 into the period and Palmer saved a flurry of shots from senior Cam Abbott and O’Byrne with a little more than 11 minutes left in the second. With four minutes left, Abbott and senior Daniel Pegoraro had a two-on-one opportunity, but Abbott’s shot was saved by Palmer.
“To have a 2-0 game going into the third [period] and having to compete hard, they’ve got skilled kids on the power play and did some good things, so it’s exactly what we needed and we have a long week of preparation to get ready for next weekend,” Schafer said.
Despite the U.S. team’s efforts, Moulson extended the Red’s lead to three just 40 seconds into the third period after going in on goal and beating Palmer with a backhand. Sophomore Raymond Sawada and junior Dan Glover were credited with assists on Moulson’s tally.
Cornell scored its fourth goal less than eight minutes later after Pegoraro took the puck in Cornell’s zone and found a wide open Abbott streaking across center ice. Abbott broke away from the U.S. defenders and beat Palmer by sneaking his shot just inside the left post.
“I think we looked pretty good as a team,” Pokulok said. “We still have some work to do, but we’re going to get there with some good hours of practice and everybody’s going to build confidence and we’ll become a better team.”
Meanwhile, junior goaltender David McKee did not have much to do all night, stopping a total of 14 shots into the third period before senior Louis Chabot played out the last 12 minutes of the game. Chabot made three saves on the night, but was unable to stop a U.S. consolation goal late in the game.
Things got rough on the ice late in the game, as both teams were called for a combined six penalties for 28 minutes. This gave the U.S. a four-on-three advantage, and it was finally able to get on the board. After pulling Palmer to gain an extra player, Summers hit a shot which Chabot saved. However, Patrick Kane picked up the rebound and beat the out-of-position Chabot up high with 25.5 seconds left in the game.
Cornell next focuses its attention on the Spartans, who are 2-0-1 on the season and are coming off a 3-3 tie against rival No. 1 Michigan this past Saturday. The Spartans will face the U.S. U-18 squad at home on Tuesday before they travel to Lynah Rink.
“Our main goal in every game is to out-work the other team, that’s our bread and butter,” Scott said. “If we play like we did tonight against Michigan State, I think we’ll do a pretty good job.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor