POTSDAM, N.Y. — Two of the nation’s best goaltenders stole the show Friday night in a matchup of the ECAC’s top two teams.
In a potential preview of the conference championship, No. 3/4 Cornell and No. 7 Clarkson fought to a scoreless draw as freshman Matt Galajda made 34 saves for Cornell (19-3-2, 13-2-2 ECAC) and Jake Kielly made 32 for Clarkson (19-6-4, 11-3-3).
With Colgate’s loss to St. Lawrence, the Red clinched a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs.
“[Galajda] just prides himself on being a competitor,” said associate head coach Ben Syer. “That’s what he is, he’s done that his entire life, and so I think he wanted to get back in the nets pretty quick after Saturday night[’s loss against RPI].”
Syer took the helm behind the bench as head coach Mike Schafer ’86 was under the weather.
In addition to Schafer’s absence, the Red kept pace with the Golden Knights despite being without junior captain Mitch Vanderlaan, who is out for the remainder of the regular season with an injury.
The acting head coach said he was pleased with the team’s effort after a slow first period. Clarkson outshot the Red, 13-6.
“I didn’t think that we moved our feet exceptionally well when he had open ice [in the first],” Syer said. “We have some guys who can skate and we were maybe a little bit tentative … and then I thought we started moving our feet a little bit more when we had open ice, which ultimately led us to get more opportunities in the offensive zone.”
With five league games remaining, the Red still has a three-point lead over the Golden Knights in the ECAC standings.
The teams traded back-and-forth chances throughout, but timely blocked shots, excellent goaltending and a tough defensive effort by both squads kept the game scoreless entering the second intermission.
“It was a … hard-fought game by both sides, plenty of chances,” said senior captain Alex Rauter. “I thought we didn’t start out too hot, but as it got going we started picking up momentum.”
After a first period largely controlled by the Golden Knights, the Red came out firing in the second, outshooting Clarkson, 14-11. The third period saw more back-and-forth play and scoring opportunities, but the two goaltenders turned aside all potential tallies.
The shutout was Galajda’s seventh of the season, tied for best in the country with Kielly.
“[Kielly’s] good,” Syer said. “I mean, he’s just good. You got to get a lot of traffic on him. And there were times tonight as the game went along we did have traffic and their defense [did] a great job too.”
Galajda said he welcomed the opportunity to be part of a goaltender’s battle.
“Whenever you see the other goalie make a big save you want to make the next big save,” Galajda said.
In overtime, the Red went to the power play just 50 seconds in after a Clarkson skater was sent off for slashing, but the visitors couldn’t break the tie despite a few shots on goal.
“We obviously wanted to get a lot of pucks to the net in overtime,” Rauter said. “Any shot’s a good shot.”
Cornell successfully killed three penalties, but was also held 0-for-3 on power plays of its own.
With a man advantage late in the second, Cornell nearly broke the tie as Beau Starrett had a chance in Kielly’s crease. Seconds later, it was Clarkson nearly netting the game’s first goal, as Jack Jacome’s shot hit the crossbar on a shorthanded breakaway.
Despite Galajda’s 34 saves, including a couple sprawling stops, the pipes helped keep the Golden Knights scoreless on a few occasions.
“Obviously you’re not happy with a tie, you want to win, but I think to come up here and get out with a tie is good for us,” Rauter said.
The Red’s road trip continues at 7 p.m. Saturday night at St. Lawrence.