February 26, 2012

M. HOCKEY | Red Skates Past League Leading No. 8 Dutchmen

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In one of the best displays this season of what the ECAC has to offer, No. 11 Cornell (15-7-7, 12-4-6 ECAC Hockey) downed the league-leader No. 8 Union (20-7-7, 14-4-4), 3-2, to tie the Dutchmen for first place, forcing deciding games for the Cleary Cup on Saturday.

Union held the puck deep in the Red’s zone for the first two minutes of play Friday night, resulting in a goal by junior center Jeremy Welsh 1:12 into the contest from a step outside the crease. The Red attempted to respond with six of its 13 first period shots, but was denied.

Sophomore forward Dustin Mowrey fed junior forward Greg Miller a soft forehand on the left in one of Cornell’s breakouts midway through the period, but Welsh rebuffed the attempt by hitting Miller so hard that his helmet came off at the Union blue line. Welsh took two minutes for roughing, but the Red was unable to convert on the power-play opportunity.

The remainder of the first was dominated by both teams’ defensemen. Eight minutes in, senior defender Sean Whitney exchanged some words with junior forward Kyle Bodie after a loose puck in the crease, and both found themselves banished to the sin bin for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct, respectively.

The Red came back to tie the game, 1-1, by the end of the second. The hitting picked up as did the presence of Union’s devout road warriors. Five minutes into the middle frame, Mowrey landed a hit on sophomore goalie Troy Grosenick’s chest shortly before John McCarron laid out Union senior defenseman Taylor Reid on the forecheck. McCarron played one of his strongest periods to date, deflecting a shot from Whitney at the point for the equalizer at 8:32and demonstrating skilled stick handling along the boards on the power play.

Wayne Simpson almost knocked one in for the Dutchmen just 30 seconds after the Red’s first goal, but sophomore netminder Andy Iles swatted it out of the air above the goal line with the thick of his stick — this save was one of 28 in the victory over Union.

The Dutchmen, who thrive on quickly reversing their opponents drives to generate odd-man rushes, would have had a breakaway at 7:36 in the second had junior defenseman Braden Birch not intercepted a pass at center ice.

Union did it again by taking advantage of a bad pass by freshman winger Cole Bardreau just inside the Red’s offensive zone. Senior captain Keir Ross took the man while his partner covered the pass, but the Dutchmen trailer was left open. Iles was forced to make a chest save with 33.1 seconds left in the second frame, which ended tied, 1-1.

“The puck wasn’t really bouncing my way tonight; it bounced over my stick on a couple back door plays too,” Bardreau said, after he dropped the puck by senior Locke Jillson.

An early 3-on-2 in the third resulted in a shot by Collins that split the defenders and popped the puck loose. Cornell recovered the rebound and clinked it off the top-left meeting of the post and crossbar. Union picked up the ricochet and caught the Red off guard with a second goal by Welsh, his 22nd of the season. By comparison, only two Cornell players have scored more than 10 goals this season.

“The greatest strength of our team is that we’re a team,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 of his team’s depth.

Junior center Greg Miller, recording 14 goals for the season, needed only 11 seconds to transfer the puck to the netting on the other side of the ice; though, the referee carried it half the distance for the faceoff. With Miller’s unassisted goal at 4:38, an intense struggle began for the go-ahead point. The crowd in Lynah became more raucous as Lowry missed McCarron in the slot. Union grabbed a high saucer pass out of the air between two Red defenders for a break away, though Iles shut the play down.

The magic moment occurred when sophomore forward Rodger Craig tapped a pass from Whitney ahead at the red line through one defender’s legs. Craig took a shot despite the pressure and beat Dutchman goalie Troy Grosenick top right by an order of magnitude.

“He’s been a healthy scratch. The left wingers [sophomore Armand de Swardt] and [freshman Madison Dias] and [Craig] have all been in and out of the lineup. No one has really claimed to be a regular,” Schafer said. “I love that he scored the goal because he’s so popular amongst our guys.”

The entire men’s hockey team came out of the locker room to support Craig as he answered questions after the win.

“It feels good,” Craig said.

Union pulled its goalie with a minute to go, and called a timeout with 33.4 seconds left, but the Cornell squad skated away with the win by utilizing a five-man penalty-kill formation.

“We’ve been learning; it’s been a process since January,” Schafer said. “We’ve put ourselves in the situation where we’ve got seven ties and haven’t done a good job of maintaining our leads. You learn from your mistakes — it’s all about getting better before the end of the year and making sure you are not having problems holding leads or having bad third periods.”

Original Author: Rob Moore