October 31, 2010

UNH routs Cornell at Lynah

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With the end of October come a few things: Halloween, the Ithaca cold and most importantly, Cornell hockey. On Friday, the men’s ice hockey team was finally back in regular season action, hosting the powerful University of New Hampshire at Lynah Rink in the much-anticipated rematch of last year’s disappointing East Regional game, in which the Red suffered a season-ending 6-2 loss at the hands of the Wildcats.

The No. 15 Red was looking to avenge last year’s loss to the now No. 10 Wildcats (2-1-2, 0-0-1 Hockey East), but ultimately came up short, losing the contest, 7-4.

While the Faithful were still settling in at Lynah, New Hampshire got off to a quick start, with UNH senior Phil DeSimone finding captain Mike Sislo 23 seconds into the first period. Sislo was able to put the puck past Cornell junior goaltender Mike Garman, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead and setting the tone for the rest of the contest.

“We came out right on their heels,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86, “we turned the puck over 15 seconds into the game, and ‘bang,’ it [was] 1-0 against a team in our own rink and all the young guys [were looking] around like, ‘Oh my God, how can we start the game that way?’”

The Red was able to regroup from the shock of being down 1-0 in the early goings of the game and five minutes later sophomore defenseman Nick D’Agostino took a pass from sophomore forward John Esposito in the neutral zone, brought it down the left side of the UNH zone and rifled one from just in front of the goal line on the far left side of the zone, with the shot going off the shoulder of UNH netminder Matt DiGirolamo and into the top left corner of the goal, evening up the score at 1-1.

Less than a minute after D’Agostino tied it up, senior co-captain Joe Devin was whistled for charging after laying a powerful hit on a New Hampshire defender, giving UNH its first power play of the game –– the first of many that would plague Cornell throughout the night.  Just over 30 seconds after Devin was sent to the box, UNH’s Dalton Speelman sent a beautiful pass across the front of the crease, meeting Austin Block on the left side. Block put the puck past a sliding Garman, who didn’t stand a chance against the New Hampshire play.

The second period started off better for the Red, with Esposito scoring the first point of the frame after getting past the New Hampshire defenders and placing a shot top-shelf, perfectly between DiGirolamo and the cross-bar –– this despite the fact that Cornell was short-handed for the fourth time in the contest, this time due to a bench minor for too many men on the ice.

“It’s tough, in our first game in our own building … to kill the first four power plays,” Schafer said. “I thought there were some pretty good hits. We’re going to go back and look at the video and see if we put the other team at risk with our physical play or not; that’s something that we have to check out.”

Senior defenseman Mike Devin agreed, “Especially when you’re down, the last thing you want is to be a man down. You want to be able to create offense, which is tough to do with guys in the box. It obviously hurt our offensive opportunities. We’ve always been a really strong defensive team, especially penalty-kill; we got some penalty-kill opportunity, but, like I said, you don’t want to be in the box.”

While being short-handed was definitely a hindrance in the Red’s ability to play the game, what really allowed the Wildcats to surge ahead in the contest was a goal scored by junior forward Stevie Moses while Cornell was on the power play.

“Moses is playing well for us,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile, “his short-handed goal was a real nice goal. That was a huge goal right there, that was a big one.”

Schafer recognized the importance of Moses’ goal as well, albeit from a different standpoint.

“It’s college hockey and we’ll learn from those mistakes. But to come back and make it 2-2 and have a chance on the power play, but to give up the [short-handed goal] –– it was frustrating,” he said.

From that point on, things were all New Hampshire, with the Wildcats going on to score four unanswered goals.

Later in the second period, UNH forward Kevin McCarey took a shot at Garman, who was unable to control the rebound, which was left sitting there for a few seconds before Mike Borisenok grabbed the puck and buried it into the back of the Cornell goal.

“In the first two periods it didn’t seem like they were hungry for the puck and you really saw it on that fourth UNH goal where three defensemen just dropped back and let the puck sit there and the forward came and grabbed it,” Schafer said. “[It] was a rebound and everybody picked up the wrong guys.”

Early in the third period, UNH would add two more goals, resulting in Schafer’s decision to replace Garman with freshman goaltender Andy Iles (much to the delight of Iles’ fellow Ithacans) with slightly over 15 minutes to go.

“I thought about [changing goalies earlier, but] I wanted Mike to try to play through it,” Schafer said. “Andy came in and did a tremendous job, made big saves and that’s what we needed: just big saves. He stepped right in and did the job.”

Soon after Iles came into the game, freshman Dustin Mowrey made a splash, putting the Red back on the board and tightening up the contest with a power-play goal off a pass from senior forward Sean Collins. Later in the period, when things seemed bleak and many of the Faithful were already heading for the exits, Schafer pulled Iles for the extra man (giving Cornell a two-man advantage, as Moses was in the box after being whistled for tripping). Once again, Mowrey, with an assist from D’Agostino, was able to put one away for the Red, making the score 6-4 and inching Cornell closer to making a serious comeback and ensuring the Faithful would remain in their seats for the rest of the nail-biting second half of the third period.

“Collins [had] a great pass from his knees [and I] had an empty net,” Mowrey said.

“I think we were pretty optimistic. Getting down like that, you can’t really think about it. It was all positive on the bench.”

Just when it seemed the Red was poised to make things interesting, Moses again stuck a dagger in the hopes of the Faithful, picking up the puck in the New Hampshire end and easily taking it to the empty net, where he quietly slipped the puck across the goal line, putting the ‘Cats up 7-4 and effectively ending the game.

Despite the disappointing loss, Cornell offered nothing but praise for UNH and placed the blame for the loss solely on its own shoulders, vowing to work on the things that went wrong in preparation for the team’s upcoming games.

“It was a great learning experience for our hockey team,” Schafer said. “We’ll be much further ahead by mid-November than we would’ve if don’t play these types of teams. … It will obviously be a lengthy video session on Monday, in order to learn from these lessons as we go forward.”

“We’re going to regroup for sure,” Mowrey said. “We can definitely be stronger defensively –– that wasn’t our game really today, where we got down like that, but we can get the defense going.”

“UNH is a great team in transition and, at times, they caught behind us and … were able to capitalize on those opportunities,” Mike Devin said. “We’ve got to make sure we stay above guys and we’ve got to shut them down in the neutral zone. We have to play our game, forecheck hard, stay above guys and, as you saw tonight, when we don’t do that it comes back to hurt us. They’re a good team and we just didn’t really come to play. We have a really skilled team and when we stick to our systems things work out. It was just a couple of break-downs in the neutral zone and, like I said, when they caught behind us. We have a really promising season ahead of us.”

Original Author: Zach Waller