ALBANY, N.Y. – As in the first two Cornell-Colgate encounters during the regular season, Friday night’s ECACHL semifinal at the Pepsi Arena was another closely fought battle. And just like in those games, the third-seeded Red came out on top.
Junior Byron Bitz scored during the second period on the power play and senior Daniel Pegoraro scored on an empty netter, as Cornell (21-7-4) held off a late Colgate (20-12-6) charge for the 2-0 win, booking its second consecutive ECACHL finals appearance against No. 4 Harvard on Saturday night. Junior goaltender David McKee made 20 saves for his third shutout of the year.
The first period was a fairly cautious affair, with both sides playing relatively tentative hockey for most of the frame. Cornell and Colgate had a few chances with Red sophomore Raymond Sawada getting a pair of open shots on goal and McKee stopping consecutive attempts from Raiders Zac Tataryn and Ben Camper.
Colgate had its best scoring opportunities of the opening frame during its first power play, after junior Ryan O’Byrne was sent to the box for holding at the 13:52 mark. Mike Campaner took a shot from the point which beat a screened McKee, but bounced off the inside of the right post and out of the crease. Seconds later, McKee was forced to make close range stops on Jon and Ryan Smyth.
“Obviously, [it was] everything that we kind of expected in the course of the game, that it was a tightly contested game, especially in the first period,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I thought both teams were kind of feeling each other out [and] David came up big in the first period on their first power play.
Cornell came out stronger than its counterparts in the second period and had a number of chances. Four minutes into the frame, junior Mark McCutcheon picked up his own rebound off a blocked shot and put an attempt on goal. Pegoraro was on hand for the rebound, but could not get a stick to it.
The Red registered its best chance up to that point less than a minute later. Sawada skated to the left point and then turned, zipping a cross-ice pass to a streaking O’Byrne on the right wing, who one-timed it past Colgate netminder Mark Dekanich – but the puck dinged off the post.
Cornell’s perseverance paid off after it earned its third power play of the night off a Nick St. Pierre hitting-from-behind penalty with 14:16 left in the second. Senior Matt Moulson guided the puck to junior Byron Bitz, who was at the top of the slot. Bitz faked a pass down low to sophomore Topher Scott and shot, wristing the puck top-shelf past a screened Dekanich for his 10th goal of the year.
“There were no surprises, at least from our perspective or our perspective as a team, and how we thought the game would play out,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “And for me, it came down to a couple of bounces … The power play goal was a great play, great execution, great shot, and really, that’s what it came down to tonight.”
Less than a minute and a half later, Cornell had a golden opportunity to go 2-up when Sawada backhanded the puck from the left side of Colgate’s goal across the crease to an open Moulson, but the captain’s shot from close range was deflected out to safety. Cornell dominated the shots on goal category, 18-6, during that frame and won 17-of-21 faceoffs.
Colgate had four power plays during the final period, but was unable to obtain many substantial chances. Its best opportunity came with 3:37 left in the game, when Tyler Burton found himself alone with the puck by the right post after a Colgate shot was deflected, but his ensuing shot was stoned by a sprawling McKee.
Colgate received its fourth power-play opportunity with 1:48 remaining in regular time after freshman Jared Seminoff was given two minutes for obstruction-hooking. However, Colgate was unable to earn any significant chances as Pegoraro streaked down the left wing and sealed the victory with the empty-netter – his fifth goal of the year.
In the first semifinal, No. 4 Harvard thrashed No. 1 Dartmouth, 10-1.
“It was one of those nights you have sometimes where nothing seems to go right,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “I thought we had an excellent start to the game, but Harvard is an excellent team, and we gave them some opportunities that they put in the back of the net.”
The final will start on Saturday night at 8 p.m.
Check out the March 27 edition of The Sun for a full recap.
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Writer