Twice last year, the men’s hockey team reached overtime in the ECACHL quarterfinals. Both times, it eventually found a way to win. But this is a different year and a different team, and when Cornell’s opening ECACHL quarterfinal game went into overtime on Friday, it didn’t last very long.
Quinnipiac sophomore Dan LeFort, who had scored one goal all season before Friday, netted the game-winner only 2:08 into extra time to give the Bobcats a 1-0 series lead on the road. The win was Quinnipiac’s first at Lynah Rink and the Bobcats’ second all-time against the Red, with the other being a 5-2 victory on Nov. 18. The defeat was only the sixth at Lynah Rink in Cornell post-season history, and only the third such loss under Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
“We talked a lot about last Saturday in the Union overtime that we were going to try to win the game in the first couple of minutes, and we did it. I think we had a lot of confidence tonight — we said the same thing again, ‘we’re going to try to win this hockey game right now in the first three minutes,’” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re the underdog. Cornell [has] the storied program, and playing at Lynah and the record they have here and stuff, so I wanted us to be confident and aggressive.”
LeFort, a former defenseman recently converted to forward, started the game-winning play with a big hit on the forecheck to free up the puck for freshman Eric Lampe. Lampe’s ensuing shot was deflected by a Red defenseman, and fell fortuitously in front of net, where LeFort was lurking.
“I just got up [from the hit] — the puck was right on my stick — took it to the net, threw it five-hole and it got past Davenport,” LeFort said. “Going into overtime, we [thought we] just had to outwork them, get the puck to the net … and good things will happen.”
The game was back-and-forth throughout, with Quinnipiac (19-13-5, 11-8-4 ECACHL) outshooting Cornell (14-12-4, 10-8-4) 12-5 in the first period, the Red outshooting the Bobcats 11-3 in the second and the teams both taking seven shots on net in the third. Sophomore goaltenders Troy Davenport and Bud Fisher each stopped 23 shots, with Davenport picking up the loss in his first career playoff start after letting in the second shot he faced in overtime.
“It was kind of disappointing with how hard we played to come out here and get a loss like that,” Davenport said.
Cornell started off the game with some poor passing in its own end and took three consecutive penalties in the first period — allowing two power plays — but also had the best chances of the period despite being outshot. With just under 14 minutes remaining, rookie Tony Romano attempted a wraparound that sailed across the face of goal, and less than a minute later, classmate Colin Greening muscled his way in front and got a shot off, but was denied by Fisher.
A few minutes later, Davenport was forced to make a number of acrobatic saves, a position he found himself in a number of times on Friday. In the second period, when Cornell had two power plays, Fisher made a number of great saves of his own through traffic and off deflections.
“Through 60 minutes I thought we played really well; I thought Cornell played well — it’s a good college hockey game,” Pecknold said. “Both goalies were just fantastic. [We] feel very fortunate that we got a good bounce in overtime.”
Quinnipiac came into the game with a seemingly decisive advantage on special teams, having converted 19.3 percent of its chances to the Red’s 12.7 percent, in league play. But the Red received a boost on defense with the return of sophomore Jared Seminoff, who had not played since Feb. 2 due to illness. Seminoff, despite getting called for three penalties in the game, provided and emotional boost for the Red and helped mitigate the Bobcats’ power play throughout the contest. Neither team was able to score on the man-advantage, as the Red went 0-for-3 and the Bobcats finished 0-for-4.
“I think our penalty kill did a really good job,” Bitz said. “Their power play is pretty good, and our penalty kill, guys were in lanes taking away passes, and they did a good job. The power play needs to get it done — we haven’t got it done. I remember last year it was all power-play goals that won these games for us.”
Bobcats junior assistant captain Jamie Bates had a chance to put his squad ahead in the second period when the puck popped lose on the forecheck, leaving him 1-on-1 with Davneport. But the third-year player’s deke and shot did not fool Davenport. Senior Mitch Carefoot responded by throwing the puck across the face of goal a few minutes later, but no one was there to slot the puck into the open net. Greening then had consecutive chances towards the end of the second period, but Quinnipiac captain Reid Cashman — known best for his offensive prowess, as he leads all Division I defensemen in points — was eventually able to force the puck lose both times.
“I thought we played good all game. It was an even game, it was a tossup, they got a lucky bounce and it’s in the back of our net,” said Cornell senior captain Byron Bitz. “I think we gave them too many chances tonight. … I think we need to be more physical tomorrow night to be successful.”
Junior Raymond Sawada had a goal disallowed after he turned and batted the puck out of the air and into the net midway through the third period. The rest of the game was evenly played, with both goalies making a number of excellent saves — especially when shorthanded — and both sides getting off the same number of shots until the goal was scored.
“It’s frustrating to lose at home ice, but we seem to have done things the rough way and tough way all year long,” Schafer said. “So, we need to have a short-term memory here tonight and come back ready to get after it tomorrow night.”