This post has been updated.
NEW YORK — When he scored, Tristan Mullin knew he did something special — a kid from a Canadian farm town, which has a population that hovers around 300 people, notched his first collegiate goal at Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.
Only what the Cartwright, Manitoba native didn’t know is that his tally would later prove to be the game-winner for his squad. Cornell men’s hockey had to fend off a furious third-period rally from Boston University to come out victorious over the Terriers for the Kelley-Harkness Cup and its first win in the biennial Red Hot Hockey series, 4-3.
“Unbelievable experience with such history here,” Mullin said. “Some major events, some major players and all that played here — just such heritage here. Unbelievable feeling.”
“I talked to him after the game about being able to sit around with the boys in summer and [asking,] ‘How many guys have scored a game winner at Madison Square Garden?’” added head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
It was not the prettiest of tallies, but Mullin, snake-bitten and pointless after appearing in every game but three entering Saturday night, won a puck at the bottom of the circles in the BU zone with under 10 to play in the third period. Fighting for every inch toward the goalmouth, Mullin just barely got a shot off while being pummeled to the ice. But it was enough to send the puck top corner past the right shoulder of BU netminder Jake Oettinger, ballooning his team’s lead back to three.
“You try to play your best and don’t look at statistics. You just play the game the right way to get shots just do everything right,” Mullin said of the time to get goal No. 1. “[But] it’s definitely some weight off your shoulders to get the first goal.”
At the time, it was insurance — Cornell entered the third period with a comfortable three-goal lead. But the Red saw its lead cut to two just five minutes into the final frame on a BU power play goal. And the goals kept coming for the Terriers.
After Mullin’s tally with 8:09 left to play, BU responded under two minutes later, and again less than two minutes after that to turn what was once a three-goal Cornell lead into a single-goal game.
Then, it was Mullin’s classmate Matthew Galajda’s turn to step up in net. Galajda was unshakable early on in his debut at the world’s most famous arena, carrying a shutout into the first five minutes of the third period.
With five to play in the game, Galajda thought he had trapped a gentle shot attempt from the corner, but BU’s Patrick Harper was there to pick up the scraps of what should have been a routine snag and make it a one-goal game.
“[I was] shocked that it went in,” Schafer said. “He probably was too.”
But when it mattered most, with his team nursing a one-goal lead and a sixth BU skater on the ice with an empty net, Galajda made the stops needed of him in spite of the slew of bodies and pucks flying into the crease.
The freshman rebounded from two tough games for a 35-save performance on the biggest of stages.
“As a freshman goaltender, I kind of feel for him. … He’s had to carry the load for us all the way,” Schafer said. “He’s risen to the occasion after he’s had a bad outing. … He’s got that kind of warrior mentality that he doesn’t let things bother him and he doesn’t drop his head.”
The eventful final 20 minutes was foreshadowed by an equally as eventful opening 40 minutes.
Junior forward Beau Starrett picked a perfect time to notch his first tally of the year, kicking off the scoring for Cornell 15:18 into the game off a feed from classmate Mitch Vanderlaan while on the rush. The Red added a pair of goals in the following period to achieve its first three-goal lead of the night.
The Red’s two other tallies came off the sticks of senior forward Trevor Yates for his team-leading seventh goal of the season and from junior defenseman Alec McCrea for his fourth goal of the season after just one in all of 2016-17.
After a 15-minute stretch without any goals, Dante Fabbro scored the Terriers’ first of two power play goals on the night only to be followed by Mullin’s heroics and goals from Chad Krys and Harper, the other power play goal.
But Cornell, a team that prides itself on dealing with adversity especially after bouncing back from a blanking at the hands of Clarkson with a gritty 5-4 win over Niagara, buckled down in the final five minutes for its second consecutive annual win at MSG in addition to last year’s 3-1 win over New Hampshire, both of which consisted of game-winners of the stick of freshmen for their first collegiate goals
“Maybe we’ll come back here more often,” said Schafer, possibly with a future freshman in the wings eager to score goal No. 1 at the world’s most famous arena.