February 19, 2007

M. Icers Earn Four Points, Home Playoff Series

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One for each senior, and one for good luck.

The men’s hockey team put on a dazzling show of offensive prowess Saturday night, scoring eight goals in the first two periods to rout Princeton, 8-4, on Senior Night. Having clinched a home series in the ECACHL playoffs the night before, Cornell (14-9-4, 10-6-4 ECACHL) came into the game knowing a win would move it a step closer to a first-round bye. It became clear from the opening whistle that the Red and its seniors — who were honored after the game — would not let that opportunity slip away easily.
[img_assist|nid=21487|title=Tiger killer|desc=Rookie Tony Romano (8) shoots on Princeton goaltender Zane Kalemba (33) during Cornell’s 8-4 win over Princeton, in which the Red led 8-1 after two periods.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=100]
Senior captain Byron Bitz and junior Raymond Sawada each scored two goals and had two assists, and senior Mark McCutcheon had two goals and an assist — the first time since Nov. 20, 1999 that three Red players scored two goals in a game and the first time since Oct. 29, 2004 that a Cornell player scored four points in one game. Rookie Blake Gallagher added three assists — exactly one week after accomplishing the very same feat for the first time in his career — and classmate Colin Greening had a goal and an assist in a victory that saw 10 different Red players tally a point. Tigers (11-13-3, 8-10-2) sophomore Lee Jubinville had a goal and an assist, and freshman Cam MacIntyre had two assists.

“I think we’re playing well,” Bitz said. “We’re starting to play the system better; we’re getting the puck deep and cycling, and that’s Cornell hockey, and it’s paying off.”

“Especially on a night like tonight … it’s really nice to see the seniors especially take it to the other team right from the get-go,” Sawada said. “It’s really good — the playoffs are coming up, and now we’re putting everything together. … As soon as we started hitting them, they just started coughing up the puck, and then we’d go in and they’d start coughing up the puck without us hitting them. And then we were able to put the puck in the net after that.”

Ahead 8-1 going into the third period, Princeton was able to get back three goals, but never looked threatening enough to challenge the outcome despite outshooting Cornell 41-29. Sophomore Troy Davenport made 37 saves for his 11th victory of the season. Princeton senior B.J. Slapsky started in goal, but was pulled before the second period, having let in four goals and made only six saves. Rookie Zane Kalemba replaced him for the remaining 40 minutes, but allowed four goals in his first 20 minutes also, making only five saves in the that span. Kalemba made 15 saves overall.

“I thought our guys did a great job of getting to the net tonight. … They showed a lot of poise around the net — instead of just sweeping it back towards the net, they took that extra half-second, quarter-second — that comes with confidence,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We didn’t come out and take care of the puck in the third period and gave up a few goals. But overall, I’m pretty happy with the effort we came out with this weekend to make sure we had two wins going on the road next weekend.”

The Cornell onslaught on the net started quickly, with Bitz turning nicely on a Princeton defender and centering to Greening only 59 seconds into the game.

13 minutes later, Gallagher found McCutcheon in front of net, and the senor craftily flicked the puck behind his back to sophomore Evan Barlow skating by, who lifted his shot to Sklapsky’s right and doubled Cornell’s advantage.

“I could just see Barlow coming in behind me, and I knew I couldn’t get a real good shot off, so I figured he’d be better off trying to get a handle on it,” said McCutcheon, who scored three points in a four-minute span beginning with the assist.

The Cornell starting lineup of Bitz, Greening, Sawada and rookie defensemen Brendon Nash and Justin Krueger totaled 12 even-strength points, but it was a pair of power-play goals by McCutcheon that served as the contest’s killer blow according to Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky.

“The game was won in the first period, and that’s when everything important happened,” he said. “They had two really good goals, but we were coming. We were still getting opportunities at net that didn’t go in, and then the 5-on-3 goal. It’s funny: there’s a big difference between 2-0 and 3-0. … I mean you can come back from 4-0, but a team like Cornell, it’s not easy.”

At 16:09, Tigers junior Kyle Hagel was called for charging the goalie, and 16 seconds later, rookie teammate Jody Pederson received a penalty for cross checking. Six seconds into the 5-on-3, Gallagher found McCutcheon at the point, and the senior’s slapshot went under the keeper’s legs to give Cornell a 3-0 edge. Less than one minute later, Nash found Gallagher, who flipped the puck in front to McCutcheon. The senior spun and batted the shot to give Cornell a 4-0 lead in the first period.

Cornell was 2-of-6 on the power play, while Princeton was 3-of-7, with two of the Tigers’ power-play conversions coming in the third when the game was already decided. More often than not, an early lead has been indicative of a forthcoming win for the Red, and Saturday was no exception. The men’s icers improved to 9-1-2 when leading after the first period and 12-0-2 when leading after the second period this season.

After the first frame and a goaltending change, Jubinville made the score 4-1 only 25 seconds into the period, bringing life to a shell-shocked Princeton bench. But the celebrations would only be momentary.

Sawada found senior Dan Glover one minute later, and Glover’s shot from the point was saved by Kalemba. The rebound fell right to an unmarked Bitz, who pulled the puck away from Kalemba and shot it into the open net for a 5-1 Red advantage. Later, the Red’s captain made it 6-1 when Greening found Krueger breaking out of the neutral zone. Krueger passed to a streaking Bitz, and his wrist shot from the circle found its way into the net thanks to a clip on the goaltender by an onrushing crowd of players.

Then it was Sawada’s turn to score a pair. After good pressure to win the puck on a dump in, junior assistant captain Topher Scott skated from behind the net and rifled a backhand that was saved. However, the rebound fell invitingly for Sawada, who slotted the puck into the netting for Cornell’s seventh goal.

Cornell scored its eighth when Bitz used his size in the corner to hold off Princeton players, and like he did once before, found Sawada in front to cap the rout.

“The puck hasn’t always been going in for me this year, but I think me, Ray and Colin are really starting to come together,” Bitz said. “We’re playing Cornell hockey, cycling the puck, and there’s a lot of weight out there — 650 pounds on that line — so we’re really using our size and it’s working.”

Princeton got three back in the third, but it was too late. Jubinville found senior captain Darroll Powe, who wristed a shot off the post only 22 seconds in, on the power play, for the Tigers’ second goal. Senior Grant Goeckner-Zoeller skated in and had a shot saved by Davenport, but the puck squirted out towards the back post and McIntyre was able to poke in Princeton’s third at 6:10 into the period. Tigers senior Christian Read scored on the man-advantage with 55 seconds remaining for the final tally.

With the game out of hand only halfway through — 7-1 at 10:39 in the second period — a number of penalties were assessed on both sides as the contest became increasingly physical, and Davenport found himself flattened on numerous occasions.

A light-hearted moment came, though, with only a few minutes remaining. Bitz worked past a defender and was in alone on net, only to have his stick break as he got by his marker. With the puck at his feet, he kick-dribbled his way towards net and took a one-footed shot — but his hat-trick effort was denied.

“I had a lot of momentum going forward, and my stick basically shattered, so I thought I’d give her a try anyway and see if they didn’t notice,” Bitz said.

“It’s good to leave on a good note, but we’ve got a lot of work to do still, McCutcheon said. “… and we’ll have more games here for sure, so we’re not ending on that note.”