Moments away from securing a hard-fought, high-intensity victory, the men’s hockey team (13-9-7, 8-8-6 ECAC) saw a shot deflect high off junior goaltender Mitch Gillam, hitting a second Cornell player and bouncing into the back of the net. It was a heartbreaking end to regulation on a night when the Red seemed desperate for a victory against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (16-13-7, 8-7-7).
“It’s frustrating, I mean we tipped the game tying goal in for them,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
RPI equalized with a mere 24 seconds left the third period to force overtime. Still, the Red had a bevy of chances in overtime to win the game.
“Jeff Kubiak was in on the break and [Christian] Hilbrich was fed in front for a great opportunity,” Schafer said. “Their goaltender made the saves.”
On Friday night, Union (13-12-9, 6-10-6) whacked Cornell 5-1. The Red came out sluggish in the first period and could never recover from an early two-goal deficit.
However on Saturday, Cornell pushed the tempo early in the first period. Freshman forward Anthony Angello scored 28 seconds into the game on a deflected puck that nipped defenseman’s skate.
It was the tenth goal of the season for Angello, who would add his 11th goal in the second period. Angello leads the Red in scoring this season.
Cornell kept up the offensive pressure for most of the period, with junior Jake Weidner and sophomore Trevor Yates having two scoring chances.
“I was happy with the distribution of offense we created,” Schafer said. “Even though some of the other guys didn’t score they had good opportunities throughout the course of the night.”
Cornell appeared to be the faster, more physical team. But their inability to convert on more scoring chances in the first period would come back to haunt them.
RPI tied the score early in the second, but Angello answered quickly to give Cornell the lead again.
Freshman defenseman Alec McCrea put Cornell up 3-2 early in the third as the RPI goaltender lost sight of the puck.
Still, in the closing minutes it felt as though Cornell should have been up by a lot more. RPI remained pesky. Even though they were undersized compared to Cornell, they brought tough and chippy play, sometimes shoving Cornell players after the whistle.
RPI’s desire not to quit eventually paid off in the closing minute.
Even with the tie, Coach Schafer was proud with the way his team competed, especially of the senior class, which played their last regular season home game on Saturday night.
Seniors John Knisley, Teemu Tiitinen, Reece Willcox and Hilbrich skated around the ice after the game on Friday as the crowd embraced and thanked them for their four years of service to Cornell hockey.
“They’re great individuals,” Schafer said. “They’re so engaged with the athletic department, the Cornell campus and the community.”
The four seniors will lead Cornell into the ECAC playoffs next weekend against Union, who has remained a touch task for the Red.
The question remains as to which team will show up next weekend. Cornell’s determination and consistent play on Saturday differed greatly from the troubling performance on Friday.
“Our guys played extremely hard and had energy and that’s what we’ll need going into the playoffs,” Schafer said.
Cornell’s experienced senior class will help the Red make sure they have the right mentality going into the playoffs.
Hilbrich stated that his team will be prepared come Friday.
“Playoff experience is really important because it is a different type of game,” Hilbrich said. “Our team will be ready to play playoff hockey.”
Nonetheless, Hilbrich also noted that playoff hockey is a bit different.
“There is another level to hockey in the playoffs especially in our league,” Hilbrich said. “The first round is just as hard as the second round. [All the teams] are so familiar with each other that everything that normally wins you games is a wash.”
Although Cornell has stumbled as of late, the Red have the talent and experience to make a deep run in the ECAC tournament. As Hilbrich said, predicting playoff outcomes is a wash. Expect it to be a wild ride.