February 11, 2008

M. Hockey Falls to Underdog Saints on Road

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With a 4-2 loss to conference foe St. Lawrence and no points on the weekend, the men’s hockey team suffered a fall from No. 2 to No. 4 in the ECAC. Even in victory, however, the Saints suffered as well — they watched one of their star players carried off the ice on a stretcher just minutes into the second period Saturday night.
The Red (11-9-3, 9-6-1 ECAC Hockey) had come to Canton, N.Y., anxious to protect its place in the standings. From the opening faceoff, however, the Saints (10-14-4, 5-9-2) were passing well and pushing into the offensive zone in an attempt to salvage a disappointing season. Capitalizing on an early power play opportunity, junior Saints defenseman Jared Ross scored from the left point only 1:23 into the contest.
“They deserved the win,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They came out ready to go, and unfortunately we found ourselves behind the eight ball and struggling to get back in it all night.”
After a solid first period in Friday’s game, the Red was struggling at the beginning of Saturday’s. The Saints, on the other hand, started strong, and the home crowd gave the Saints even more momentum. The number of people in the stands (2680) was greater than St. Lawrence’s entire enrollment (2133), and the noise in Appleton Arena rivaled Lynah levels throughout the game.
“It was a pretty hard-fought game,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “There was a little chippiness and some things like that, but I think it was born out of the fact that, you know, we were playing with some serious desperation. We hadn’t won a game in here since the Truman administration.”
With less than five minutes left in the period, the Saints tallied another goal. A delayed penalty call had brought junior forward Brock McBride off the Saints bench. As McBride quickly skated down the left side, he received a perfectly timed pass from junior Zach Miscovic, positioned in the corner near the right post.
Sandwiched between those goals were several scoring opportunities on both sides. The Saints, however, were outhustling the Red.
“The thing is, [St. Lawrence] played very hard, and we didn’t come out ready to play, to match the team’s intensity,” Schafer said. “They’re cornered. They’re a team who was battling and had a lot of pride and played really hard at home, and we didn’t come out ready to pay attention to detail. That’s the frustrating part. It’s so easy to say, man, we worked so hard in that game to get back into it, to try to do good things. We did a lot of good things, had scoring chances, but again it’s about the start of the game and having all that focus and intensity and energy ready to go when the puck drops.”
To start the new period, Schafer changed up the lines, substituting Blake Gallagher for Patrick Kennedy, in an attempt to spark the offense.
“We were down two goals,” Schafer said. “We wanted to try to get something going. We didn’t really have much going in the first period. We only had a few scoring chances, [so we wanted to] just try to shake things up to get something going.”
Both the Red and the Saints, however, were shaken up at the 1:21 mark, when St. Lawrence’s first scorer of the night fell to the ice by the left boards in Cornell’s defensive zone. Ross lay flat on his back, not moving for several minutes as trainers and coaches assessed the damage.
The arm of Cornell freshman Joe Devin had hit the back of Ross’s head, resulting in a roughing (contact to the head) penalty and game disqualification for the young defenseman. Junior forward Tyler Mugford was on the ice at the time.
“Yeah, I was on the ice [when it happened],” Mugford said, “but I missed it. It’s not normally [what Devin does]. It’s out of character, not what Joe does. It’s terrible, and nobody likes to see it happen. Hopefully the kid’s alright and nothing serious happens to him.”
Ross was carried off on stretcher to a standing ovation. It was later reported that the defenseman had feeling in all extremities and that medical tests showed his condition to be stable.
Both coaches were surprised at its severity and recognized that it unsettled all the players. Like Mugford, neither coach saw the hit at the time.
“I think [the penalty] was out of the blue,” Schafer said. “Our team is one of the two or three least penalized teams, and I know Joe Marsh’s teams are always very, very disciplined. We’ve never had an incident like that. I haven’t seen the play. They said it was a high hit on the kid. Our guys were very, very concerned for the kid, and it was tough after he went down, it was tough for a lot of kids, and coaches and staff to focus, obviously being very concerned for the kid’s health. Anytime you see that happen, it’s a hockey player’s worst nightmare.”
“I didn’t see the hit,” Marsh said, “but I told our guys, ‘Hey, don’t make this worse.’ We’re not going to go out there and suddenly have vindication or retribution.”
After the long, stressful stoppage in play, however, St. Lawrence returned to the attack with a vengeance. The Saints were called for five penalties — half of their game total — in the second period.
“It was physical the whole game,” Mugford said. “They came hard, and obviously after the hit emotions were high. Their guys don’t like seeing their guys get hurt … so it was a physical game all around.”
For several minutes, it looked as if the Red would be able to hold off the Saints’ invigorated attack. With 40 seconds remaining on the major penalty, however, things went downhill quickly. At the 5:42 mark, freshman forward Jared Keller sent a shot from the point. Sophomore goaltender Ben Scrivens dropped to his knees to make the save, but the puck sailed through as if in slow motion.
Keller assisted on the Saints’ fourth goal 28 seconds later, with sophomore Travis Vermeulen finishing close to the net to give the home team a 4-0 lead with 0:12 left on Devin’s penalty.
Schafer pulled Scrivens, and junior Troy Davenport set up in goal to finish out the penalty, saving the Saints’ first shot on him as the fateful penalty expired.
“I pulled Ben for no reason other than a change of scenery,” Schafer said. “It’s just really, really frustrating. So many crazy things happened this weekend, starting with [Friday] night’s game with the goal going off them and then our goalie losing a stick and giving up a goal, and we come out [Saturday] and our guy breaks a stick on the penalty kill. We gave up a goal, and then the second one we’re getting a penalty and the kid comes off the bench all alone and he scores. The third one hits Jared Seminoff. The fourth one hits the referee and lands right on their stick.”
Things started to go Cornell’s way soon after that fourth goal. Almost halfway through the period, a 4-on-3 man advantage in the Red’s favor opened up the ice and allowed the harried visitors more room to maneuver as they set up around the Saints goal.
After a series of passing and a narrowly unsuccessful shot from the right post by senior co-captain Topher Scott, Cornell got on the board on the next possession when Riley Nash notched his ninth goal of the season at the 9:53 mark.
“It was 4-0, and it seemed like we were losing, just the way [Cornell] kept coming and coming,” Marsh said.
The reenergized Red picked up the attack over the next few minutes. Senior forward Chris Fontas, for example, made an athletic play to keep possession of the puck. Under pressure, the center dropped to one knee at the right faceoff circle but still kept the puck and then moved in toward the goal.
Freshman Dan Nicholls got the puck and almost rammed it home but was stopped by senior St. Lawrence netminder John Hallas with 6:02 remaining.
After Saints defenseman Miskovic was called for elbowing as time expired and Alex Curran got an early penalty in the third, the Red spent the opening minutes of the final stanza on the power play. Just 2:22 into the final stanza, Nash scored what would be the final goal of the night
Off-balance sophomore forward Blake Gallagher sped down the right side and shot the puck on one foot. Hallas made the save, but sophomore assistant captain Colin Greening gathered it up near the left post to try again. The third time was the charm, as Nash got the rebound and put it past Hallas 2:22 into the period. 17:38 4-2
The Red carried most of the play in the third, outshooting the Saints 12-4.
Nash had Hallas out of position with 9:45 left in the period, but the puck just missed the open net and hit the right post. About two minutes later, another shot by Nash from the right point was well-placed but still buried in the goaltender’s glove.
“They’ve got strong sticks,” Marsh said. “Physically, they’re … one of the strongest teams that play the game. Nash just absolutely killed us.”
Nash’s heroics, however, weren’t enough to overcome the Saints lead. The Cornell penalty kill unit gave up three power play goals on five opportunities. Scrivens reentered the goal for the Red with 4:54 remaining and was soon pulled for the extra man on the ice. Three clear-sailing Saints shots were just wide of the empty Cornell net, but St. Lawrence didn’t allow the home team to complete its come-from-behind effort.
“Consistency starts in practice throughout the course of the week,” Schafer said. “Certain guys need to be focused … through the course of the week because it carries in for them. You sense that in practice during the week, but we played well [Friday] night, but certain guys struggled [Friday] night and the same thing with certain guys who didn’t have great practice habits all last week, struggled again [Saturday]. I think it’s a good lesson for these guys to grow up and mature.”
Devin’s particular situation forced some grown up actions, as well. After the game, Schafer apologized to Marsh and assured him that the Cornell program would follow up on the matter. Though Devin is leading the Red defenseman in scoring with three goals in thirteen games, the freshman has encountered a dreaded hockey event early in his career.
“We’ll deal with discipline from our standpoint,” Schafer said. “I know that Joe feels bad. It’s out of character for him. He hasn’t taken a hit from behind, [and] he hasn’t been undisciplined this year. So I feel for Joe too, from that standpoint. He’s a good kid and just got his arm up [at the wrong time]. … The biggest thing is that we’re grateful the kid’s okay.”