February 19, 2012

M. HOCKEY | Cornell Earns First-Round Bye in ECAC Playoffs

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Saints sophomore goalie Matt Weniger looked surprised 36 seconds into the overtime period of Saturday’s game after Red senior forward Sean Collins scored the game-winner with a backhand that traveled through his own skates and across the crease. The sudden death goal was the last of a three-point weekend for the Red in which it secured a coveted bye for the first round of the ECAC playoffs.

“It’s great to have a little bit of time off to regroup on a few things that we want to execute in the playoffs,” said assistant coach Ben Syer. “It gives our guys some time to heal their bumps and bruises.”

Syer took the reins of the Red on Saturday as a first-year assistant coach for the program.

The No. 12 Cornell squad (14-6-7,11-3-6 ECAC Hockey) played the Clarkson Golden Knights (9-7-4, 15-13-6) to a 1-1 tie on Friday night at Cheel Arena before finishing off the weekend with a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Lawrence Saints (13-16-3, 9-10-1). Meanwhile, two victories over Dartmouth (10-13-4, 7-10-3) and Princeton (8-13-6, 6-11-3) increased Union’s first place lead to two points over the Red. The Dutchmen (19-6-7, 13-3-4) have won 10 of their past 12 contests and are poised to take the regular season championship, the Cleary Cup, home to Schenectady, N.Y. next weekend if Cornell cannot win the head-to-head matchup.

Junior center Greg Miller scored the first goal in both contests, getting his pass from sophomore forward Dustin Mowrey and senior defenseman and captain Keir Ross on Friday at the beginning of the second period.  At the end of a scoreless first, Miller sent a puck off Clarkson senior goalie Paul Karpowich’s back which forced a review of the play. The call was a no-goal, but Miller would come back to put the rubber away for sure with a deflection at 5:19 into the middle frame.

Both teams battled to produce similar amounts of quality scoring chances, but neither could foil the other’s goaltender until Clarkson graduate forward Nick Tremblay snapped a rebound past sophomore goaltender Andy Iles with less than seven minutes left in regulation. Iles registered 24 saves on the evening and Karpowich played a similar game, with 27 saves on the Red. Both net minders received significant help from their posts; Cornell almost lost the game when sophomore forward Ben Sexton rattled a post with under a minute left in overtime.

The Red — unsatisfied with a tie — earned its first win at Appleton Arena since February 2005 the following evening. Cornell pulled out in front in the first and again in the second, but the Saints were not phased and tied it up twice to force the extra period. Improving upon its face-off percentage of the previous night, the men’s hockey team returned from Canton, N.Y. in high spirits.

The Saints dominated play for much of the first, yet headed into the second down 2-0. Shots from Saints freshman forward Chris Martin and senior forward Jacob Drewiske flew past Iles in the middle frame, but a quick play put Cornell on top heading into the third. Senior forward Locke Jillson accepted a pass from freshman defenseman Joakim Ryan in the neutral zone and charged up the left side. Jillson beat his defender through the circle and went glove side on Weninger for his sixth goal of the season. Weninger made 26 saves on the night after securing last week’s ECAC Goalie of the Week honors.

“[The game against St. Lawrence] was a night of swings,” Syer said. “There was some real highs and some real lows here.  The played ebbed and flowed.”

A third period unassisted goal by sophomore defender Justin Baker at the 4:51 mark was not enough to extend the Saints’ five-game winning streak.

“It was huge for us,” Collins said. “They are two tough rinks to play at, and picking up three points gives us an opportunity to get a share of the title next weekend.”

Only two home games remain before the ECAC playoffs — against teams Cornell tied on the road previously this season.

“We’ve seen them — we know it’s going to be two tough battles,” Collins said.

The Red hosts Union for its Senior Night Friday at 7 p.m., before facing Rensselear at the same time on Saturday at Lynah Rink. As of Sunday night, an ECACHockey.com poll pegged Cornell as the team most capable of defeating the league-leader.

Original Author: Rob Moore