While celebrating Senior Night, the last regular season game of the year, with a 5-2 win over Union, the men’s hockey team also ensured that it will return to Lynah Rink once more this season for a quarterfinal matchup in the ECAC Hockey tournament. With the victory, Cornell is guaranteed a first-round bye in the tournament and no lower than the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
On a night to recognize the eight graduating seniors on the Cornell roster, it was rising junior center Riley Nash who put on an offensive show. He racked up two goals and two assists and seemed to be at the center of most of the Red’s chances on offense.
“He was a force all night long,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said of Nash. “It’s great; this time of year we talk about guys stepping up and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen that kind of individual performance on this campus. Hopefully he keeps it going.”
Rising sophomore defenseman Keir Ross scored the first two goals of his college career, rising senior defenseman Brendon Nash and rising senior forward Blake Gallagher both added two assists and forward Evan Barlow ’09 notched a goal and an assist.
Ross got the Red on the board 2:21 into the first period, continuing the team’s recent trend of hot starts. Rising sophomore forward Locke Jillson slung a pass from behind the net to Gallagher, who tipped it to Ross for the goal.
Riley Nash added to the lead three minutes later with a power play goal following a boarding call against Union forward Matt Cook. Barlow collected the rebound off a hard shot by Brendon Nash, then fed it to Riley Nash for the score. Barlow nearly scored a goal of his own later in the period when he found himself in a one-on-one breakaway, but he mishit his shot and then tripped over the Union defender who was right on him the entire way.
The younger Nash scored his second goal of the game with 3:09 remaining in the first period. The Red disrupted Union’s offense in the neutral zone then passed back to Brendon Nash behind Cornell’s blue line. Brendon Nash sent a perfectly placed pass up the ice past several defenders to his younger brother, who broke away and feinted a few shots before dumping the puck into the left corner of the net to give the Red a 3-0 lead.[img_assist|nid=37502|title=Old and wise|desc=The senior class won its last regular-season game at Lynah Rink in dominant fashion, 5-2. Junior forward Blake Gallagher (27) tallied two assists against Union.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
“My linemates played well, the defense played very well to get the puck up ice and we just went after it,” Riley Nash said. “From the goalie out, I think that’s one of the best team efforts we’ve had all year.”
Union got on the board with a 5-on-3 goal by senior forward Jason Walters as the first period was winding down. Rising junior forward Dan Nicholls was called for tripping, then on the ensuing penalty kill, Riley Nash was whistled for cross-checking to give the Dutchmen the two-man advantage.
Cornell was hurt by penalties again in the second period following a brawl near the Red’s goal. Players from both teams pushed each other around following a hit to Union junior forward John Simpson. Simpson was on the ice for a few minutes, but skated off on his own. Rising sophomore forward Sean Collins was called for elbowing and Brendon Nash and Union junior forward Stéphane Boileau were both called for roughing.
Defenseman Lane Caffaro scored his fifth power play goal of the season to bring the Dutchmen within one, 3-2, but the Red used goals by Ross and Barlow to pad its lead.
With the three-goal lead and the clock winding down in the third period, Schafer sent in goalie Dan DiLeo ’09, who had never played in front of the home crowd before. DiLeo entered the game to raucous cheers from the packed house, which only got louder when he made a nice save to diffuse a Union 3-on-2 rush.
“He’s a great kid, 4.0 [grade-point average] student on campus,” Schafer said of DiLeo. “He hasn’t seen the ice but his work ethic and commitment are second to no one on our hockey team. So it’s nice for him to experience [the home crowd], and then he gets a huge save so it’s even better.”
Following the game, fans stayed around for the traditional Senior Night tribute. The lights at Lynah Rink were dimmed and a spotlight followed each of the eight seniors — goalies Troy Davenport and DiLeo; defensemen Jared Seminoff and Taylor Davenport; and forwards Michael Kennedy, Evan Barlow, Tyler Mugford and Derek Punches — as they took turns skating around the rink before joining their classmates and families in the center circle.
“They’re an unsung group in the sense that they don’t have huge career numbers,” Schafer said of the class of 2009. “But these guys have done everything we’ve asked as a coaching staff that doesn’t show up here on score sheets. They’re a great group of guys, they’re really responsible for bringing this team close together. They’ve set the table for us to have a great year.”