Unlike the content fans who excitedly poured out of Lynah Rink after the men’s hockey team earned a 4-3 overtime victory against Brown, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 sat at Friday night’s press conference visibly displeased with his team’s performance.
“I’m not really happy with the way we played and I wasn’t happy in how we prepared right from our morning skate,” Schafer said. “I’m not happy about the way we played in overtime. It’s such a short year, guys have to come out focused.”
With the Red (14-4-2, 9-3-1 ECACHL) facing a 3-1 deficit in the second period after its mostly uninspired play up to that point, Cornell was forced to fight tooth and nail against the ECACHL’s last-place team to get back into the game.
Goals by sophomore Sasha Pokulok and junior Mitch Carefoot helped send the encounter into overtime before senior Chris Abbott tallied the game-winner.
However, Abbott’s goal came after a spectacular performance by Cornell junior goaltender David McKee, highlighted by a post-to-post stop on Brown’s Jeff Prough in the extra period.
“I think getting down a couple of goals actually shows the character of our players and our team, just the fact that we were able to show a lot of grit and determination to win the game in overtime,” McKee said.
After Red senior Matt Moulson and Brown’s Pete LeCain exchanged power play goals in the opening frame, the Bears took the lead 1:06 into the second period. In an odd sequence of events on a 2-on-1 opportunity, Eric Slais rifled a shot, which was saved by McKee. However, the rebound went off of unsuspecting Cornell senior defender Jon Gleed, who was located just above the crease, and into the net.
Later in the period, Brown (3-12-5, 2-8-3) doubled its lead on a controversial goal. As Brown took it into Cornell’s zone, it appeared that McKee was hit by an opposing player and he fell on his back. With the goaltender out of position, Slais dished a pass off to Prough, who found the back of the net, notching his ninth goal of the year.
But, Brown’s third tally seemed to ignite the Red. After being more aggressive on the boards and in going forward, the Red earned a well-deserved goal. As Brown’s Sean Hurley left the penalty box after serving out his two-minute penalty for interference, junior Byron Bitz passed the puck off to Pokulok, who smacked a one-timer from the point that was deflected off a player’s back and found its way past D’Alba.
“It was one of those screen shots where you go down, make yourself big and cover low,” D’Alba said. “I had no idea what happened to it, all I saw was it going upper corner, glove side, and I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t really see it.”
As the Red continued to gain momentum, it tied the game up after Prough was handed two minutes in the box for tripping. Attacking the ECACHL’s statistically-worst penalty kill, Pokulok cycled the puck down low to senior Daniel Pegoraro. Rather than shooting, Pegoraro zipped a pass across the face of D’Alba’s net to a wide-open Carefoot, who slotted it home from close range.
“As soon as the score went 3-1, we decided, ‘Okay, now it’s time to kick it into gear and get going here,’ and that [was] the first time our intensity took off throughout the course of the game,” Schafer said.
Brown and Cornell each had a power play opportunity in the third period, but solid goaltending by McKee and D’Alba set the stage for the second overtime encounter between the two teams this season.
Although Cornell would come out of the extra period victorious, as it did in Providence on Nov. 5, it would first need a dose of McKee’s heroics.
As the Bears had it in Cornell’s zone, Prough found space from close range and shot. However, McKee made the post-to-post save, setting up the eventual game-winner.
“I came through a couple of defensemen and I just one-timed it as hard as I could,” Prough said. “He’s a great goalie, I don’t know how he got over to it in time.”
“The game could have been totally different if it wasn’t for David McKee,” Schafer added. “We did two things in overtime that we addressed right on the bench not to do, and we got away with it, thanks to David.”
On the next line change, Cornell came down the ice as Abbott received the puck from freshman Tyler Mugford and went in on goal, slotting it past D’Alba. McKee also earned his first career point, as he was credited with an assist on the play.
“I was going to take it wide on the defenseman, he opened up and I just came across and was able to get a backhand off,” Abbott said. “I think it fooled D’Alba a little bit.”
Friday’s victory marked the Red’s 10th win in 12 games, but it left a sour taste in Schafer’s mouth, as he called it the team’s “worst game in a while.”
“We’re not happy with the way we played tonight. Obviously, the two points is good for us, but ultimately, we didn’t come to play and we weren’t consistent,” Abbott said. “We can say we dodged a bullet. To come out like that and not play the way we should, we’re not going to get up on any teams in this league.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor