SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — After 40 minutes, the No. 20 men’s hockey team sported a two-goal lead against the worst team in the ECACHL. Cornell seemed to be in control, with rookie Blake Gallagher, senior Mitch Carefoot and junior Doug Krantz having scored in the first 22 minutes for a hot Red side that recently thrashed second-place Clarkson by five goals.
But it takes 60 minutes to win a hockey game, and Union took full advantage of Cornell’s mental mistakes late Friday night. Led by its top-2 scorers, sophomore T.J Fox and junior Josh Coyle, the Dutchmen (13-13-3, 6-7-1 ECACHL) stormed back in the third period to earn a 3-3 tie and prevent the Red (11-9-4, 7-6-4) from catching third-place Quinnipiac — at least for a week.
Junior Justin Mrazek made 21 saves for Union, while his Cornell counterpart, rookie Ben Scrivens, made 31 saves — including four in overtime. Scrivens had been sporting a 93.9 save percentage and a 1.44 goals against average since Jan. 25, and although the first-year starter was brilliant at times, Coyle beat him to tie the score on two occasions.
First, exactly three minutes after Gallagher opened the scoring by whipping in a first-period backhand, Coyle responded with a beautiful effort to tie the contest. Snagging an attempted clear and taking the puck into the zone on his own, he then skated around two defenseman towards net — holding off one with his arm — and faked out Scrivens, finishing backhanded to the keeper’s right.
“You know, we worked on a lot of neutral zone defense during the week, and as a line that was a perfect neutral zone defense,” Coyle said. “The ‘D’ were kind of flat-footed, and I just took advantage of it and drove the net.”
Midway through the third period, Coyle grabbed the game-tying lantern-lighter. After junior Torren Delforte and Fox worked the puck down low, Coyle circled in front from behind net and, unmarked, laced a shot near-post just between Scrivens and the pipe to tie the score at 3.
“The goalie’s a freshman, I believe. It seemed like that was good gameplan — get a lot of shots on net,” Coyle said.
Union outshot Cornell 34-25 and 14-6 after the second period. The teams combined to go 0-for-12 on the power play, but each managed to score a shorthanded goal.
“Down two goals, it’s a good comeback for us,” said Fox, who had a shorthanded breakaway goal to spark the comeback and a game-tying assist. “It’s big one point for us.”
The tie was doubly-damaging for the Red’s title hopes, with Carefoot — Cornell’s best performer lately — needing to be helped off the ice after suffering an apparent chest injury from a walloping body check by a Union defenseman. The hit came as Carefoot scored Cornell’s second goal, also shorthanded, for his team-best ninth tally, extending his points streak to nine games. Carefoot raced in towards net with defenders chasing him, and as he let his shot go, received the full impact of the check, which hurled him towards net and caused the goaltender to dislodge the cage. After reviewing the play, officials ruled that the puck crossed the line before the net came loose and awarded a goal.
Junior assistant captain Topher Scott described Carefoot’s play as “one of the gutsiest plays I’ve ever seen playing hockey.” Later, he also helped the Red’s cause, setting up Cornell’s third goal for a 3-1 lead under two minutes into the second period. The third-year star raced down the left wing on a 2-on-1, waited for Krantz to break from the point, and centered the puck for his team-leading 21st league point and 17th assist.
However, the Cornell assistant captain made no excuses for his side’s poor showing.
“We were probably a little complacent coming out in the third period with a two-goal lead, and you can’t do that,” Scott said. “We didn’t come out with the passion and the flair that we had in those first two periods, and it ended up costing us in the end of the game.”
“We got away from our systems and the things we were trying to focus on going into the game,” said Cornell assistant coach Brent Brekke, who helped fill in for head coach Mike Schafer ’86 due to the coach’s illness. “We were turning the puck over a lot [after the first 20 minutes] and we didn’t have any semblance of a neutral zone offense or a defense.”
The Red had dominated in a 6-0 win when the teams last met on Dec. 2 at Lynah Rink. The Dutchmen didn’t let it get out of hand this time, however, due in part to a change in penalty killing tactics between the second and third period, when the team was down 3-1.
“We had talked in the dressing room about getting a chance to go shorthanded,” said Union senior captain Sean Streich. “We changed up our penalty kill a little bit, and [Fox] made a nice play at our blue line.”
That play was Fox’s breakaway only 24 seconds into the final period, his team-leading eighth in league play. The sophomore took a mishandled pass from Cornell rookie Justin Milo at the blue line and streaked down ice, beating Scrivens five-hole to cut the lead to one goal and help spark the Union comeback.
“I felt like T.J. Fox’s goal switched the momentum — the shorthanded goal. And it happened early in the period,” said Union head coach Nate Leaman.
“We weren’t taking it to them in the defensive zone,” Fox said. “We were giving them the net and in between those periods, we realized we had to come out a lot harder; take it to them, pressure them a lot harder in our zone, take it to the net.”
Exactly 20 seconds later, the Red thought it had made the score 4-2. Rookie Colin Greening received a pass in the corner and swung the puck across ice, inches from the goalmouth, to streaking classmate Tony Romano. Romano was able to score off his own rebound. After a quick review, however, the goal was disallowed for the net coming dislodged. Television replays appeared to show that Dutchmen netminder Mrazek had dislodged the goal himself. Instead, the score held 3-2, and the play fueled Union’s comeback attempt and deflated Cornell even more.
“If they counted that goal, it would have been a back-breaker,” Leaman said. “I thought there were two questionable goals in the game: one went their way and one went our way.”