According to head coach Mike Schafer ’86, who’s been at the helm of his alma mater’s program for 22 seasons, it’s usually around Thanksgiving when he can discern the identity of his team.
His No. 7 Cornell men’s hockey squad was dominated by Niagara the first two periods Tuesday night in a game where his team faced a pair of two-goal deficits. But in pulling out a 5-4 victory thanks to a four-goal third period outburst, Schafer said his team showcased its identity as a group that finds ways to win.
“It’s so easy to be up and rah-rah when things are going well,” Schafer said, “but when the character will really rear its head is when you’re facing adversity.”
The Purple Eagles held a comfortable 3-1 lead at the end of two periods. They clung to another two-goal lead in the third.
But the Red came storming back, using renewed effort and a couple lucky bounces to eventually tie the game, 4-4, midway through the third. Senior forward Trevor Yates’ game-winning goal — his sixth tally of the season — with 2:49 left in the contest capped a come-from-behind win to get Cornell back in the win column after its first loss of the season to Clarkson last Saturday.
“I had the feeling [that] we’re not losing this game,” Yates said of his emotions as momentum swung his team’s way in the third. “We’re going now, we’re playing our game and no one’s going to stand in our way.”
“They were fed up with it in the third and they just put their nose to the grindstone and went after it,” Schafer added. “That’s what you want as a coach.”
For the second game in a row, the Red found itself in an early hole, as Zach Mills scored for the Purple Eagles 10:01 into the contest.
But the Cornell power play was then able to redeem itself after a 0-for-6 showing in its 4-0 loss to Clarkson to knot the game at one. Senior forward and captain Alex Rauter buried a deflection from a junior defenseman Matt Nuttle shot to even the score just over five minutes later. Nuttle finished the game with three assists.
Tied at one, Niagara then seemed to run away with the game in the second period. Derian Plouffe scored 7:12 into the second, and Tanner Lomsnes buried a power play goal for the Purple Eagles 1:47 later to give his team a 3-1 lead.
Facing the team’s fourth multi-goal deficit of the season — and first of two in the game — Yates said his squad needed to “get back to who we were” after a poor showing in the opening two frames.
“We had a good shift, we had a couple bad ones,” he said. “There was no consistency.”
A few minutes after the quick two Niagara goals, Cornell — outshot 16-8 in the second — took control in the offensive zone again, and earned a power play opportunity with 4:07 left in the period. Primed with a chance to make it a one-goal game again, the Red’s scoring opportunities abound didn’t lead to a goal, and Cornell faced a two-goal deficit heading into the second intermission.
“We knew what we were capable of,” freshman defenseman Alex Green said of the message between periods. “Coach made it pretty simple in between periods that we had to go out there and play our game.”
The game Niagara seemed to have a stranglehold on minutes earlier was competitive again when a goal from junior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan pulled his team within one. But 53 seconds later, the Red’s momentum was squashed by another Niagara goal.
Down 4-2, Green quickly responded with his first career goal to get his team back within striking distance, and defenseman Brendan Smith scored less than three minutes later to tie the game. Cornell outshot Niagara 12-4 in the third, capped off by Yates’ eventual game-winner.
The Red’s exciting comeback, which started with Vanderlaan’s goal 4:17 into the third period, “all started with work ethic, and it always does,” Schafer said. The dominant four-goal period pushed the Red to victory.