There is no good way to end a season. But a series sweep at home to a team that two years ago could only watch Cornell hockey in awe is particularly disappointing. Quinnipiac dashed Cornell’s ECACHL title hopes Saturday night with a 3-2 comeback victory over the Red at Lynah Rink. The win advances the Bobcats (20-13-5, 12-8-4 ECACHL) to the league semifinals next weekend in Albany, while No. 20 Cornell (14-13-4, 10-9-4) must say a bittersweet goodbye to its seniors and its season.
“There are a lot of tears going around right now,” said junior assistant captain Topher Scott. “You spend so much time with all of these guys and you have to say goodbye. It’s tough to put into words the way we are feeling right now.”
Cornell had a 2-1 lead in the second period before Quinnipiac’s leading scorer, rookie Brandon Wong, tied the game with under five minutes remaining in the frame. Both squads exchanged scoring opportunities in third period until Cornell junior Raymond Sawada was assessed a five minute major penalty for boarding at the 10:55 mark of the period. Bobcats’ junior forward Ben Nelson then scored the game-winning goal with 17 seconds left on the Quinnipiac power play.
Red goaltender Troy Davenport was pulled for an extra attacker with 50 seconds remaining in the contest yet Cornell was unable to record an equalizer. Davenport finished the game with 24 saves while Quinnipiac goaltender Bud Fisher stopped 19 shots.
“It’s frustrating,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ‘86. “You’re not going to win when you have to kill that many penalties. It was frustrating to kill off four and a half minutes of the penalty and then give [a goal] up.”
The physical game was marred by an onslaught of penalties called by referee Peter Feola. After Quinnipiac’s second goal, a minor brawl broke out nearby the Cornell goal that resulted in eleven roughing penalties.
“[The fight] was an unfortunate situation,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. “You never like to see that in college hockey.”
Quinnipiac opened the game’s scoring with a bizarre goal only 23 seconds after the opening face-off. A turnover deep in the Red’s zone allowed Bobcats’ rookie Eric Lampe to feed winger David Marshall just in front of the Cornell net. Marshall banged the puck past Davenport to give the visitors an early 1-0 advantage.
The Red fought back to tie the score with just over five minutes remaining in the first period on a play initiated by the persistent forecheck of senior winger Mark McCutcheon.
McCutcheon made an outlet pass to freshman defenseman Brandon Nash at the point, who then deked around a Quinnipiac defender before firing a shot on goal. The shot caromed off of a defender in front of the goal right to the stick of sophomore Evan Barlow, who tapped the puck past Fisher to even the score at 1-1.
The Red then took the lead at the 16:56 mark of the first period on a power play goal from freshman Colin Greening. With Lampe in the penalty box for interference, freshman Blake Gallagher faked a shot from the point before dishing the puck to Greening posted at the low right circle. Greening one-timed a low shot past Fisher to give Cornell a 2-1 advantage after the first period. Nash recorded the second assist on the goal, ensuring that it would be an all-rookie affair.
Wong and the Bobcats halted the Red’s momentum late in the second period with the game-tying goal. A Cornell turnover in the Quinnipiac zone resulted in a 2-on-1 break for Wong and Bobcats’ freshman Greg Holt. With 3:48 remaining in the frame, Holt fed Wong in the slot who flipped a backhand shot past Davenport. Quinnipiac rookie Jean-Marc Beaudoin was credited with the second assist.
“I tried to get [the puck] to my forehand at first,” Wong said. “But I just went backhand and it found its way into the net.”
After trading penalties and scoring chances in the third period, Sawada leveled a devastating hit on Bobcats’ defenseman Sami Liimatainen in the Quinnipiac zone with just over nine minutes to play in the game. Sawada was given a five minute boarding major as the Lynah crowd serenaded Feola with a “worst ref ever” chant.
The Red almost escaped the five minute disadvantage until Nelson scored the go-ahead goal for Quinnipiac. A shot through traffic by Bobcats’ captain Reid Cashman was initially stopped by Davenport but Nelson collected the rebound and shelved the puck into the top left corner of the goal with 4:21 to play in the period.
“When [Cornell] went up 2-1, they had all of the momentum,” Cashman said. “We just had to weather the storm. In all senses of the term this was a team victory.”
Cornell senior captain Byron Bitz was a late scratch from the game with an undisclosed injury. For him and the rest of the seniors on the Red, the loss ultimately means the end of their careers at Cornell.
“You realize the season is over and it’s a complete shock,” Greening said. “It’s tough because you have to say goodbye to some guys. It’s not going to be the same.”