This post has been updated.
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — A night after one of the program’s biggest moments in 13 years, Cornell men’s hockey ended a successful and exciting 2017-18 regular season with a tough 4-3 loss to Union.
Despite a one-goal margin, the Red (23-4-2, 17-3-2 ECAC) was unable to match its opponent’s power from start to finish, mustering only 24 shots on goal to Union’s 36.
“We looked like a team that clinched first place last night,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said of his team’s effort. “I felt it all day, that we had clinched first place, couldn’t go up and couldn’t go down.”
As the Red was busy clinching the Cleary Cup with a 4-2 victory over RPI in Troy Friday, Union (21-13-2, 16-5-1) skated to a lackluster 1-1 tie against Colgate, leaving them apparently hungry to finish their season on a high note.
“[Union] looked like a team that got their ass chewed out last night for half an hour,” Schafer said. “I knew that they were obviously unhappy with how they played [against Colgate].”
Halfway through the final period of play, Union’s Brett Supinski trickled the winning shot behind senior goalie Hayden Stewart on his glove side to hand the Red its fourth loss on the season. Stewart made his first appearance since Jan. 5.
“I thought I’d give [Stewart] an opportunity,” Schafer said. “As a senior I wanted to give Hayden at least one start here in the second half.”
Stewart learned last night that he would play in place of freshman standout Matt Galajda, whose tremendous rookie season so far has him among the nation’s best goaltenders.
“Obviously a frustrating game,” Stewart said. “I would have liked to make a couple more saves for us.”
The Dutchmen got off to a hot start, rifling 13 shots at Stewart in the game’s first 12 minutes. The Red was able to put the puck on net just once in that time span, and it looked as though Union was taking command of the game.
But the Red held steady, with Stewart standing strong between the pipes. Eventually, Cornell struck first courtesy of sophomore defenseman Yanni Kaldis, who buried a floating rebound past Union netminder Jake Kupsky.
“I thought [Union] came out in the first part of the game [with] a little more intensity than us,” Stewart said. “After that, I thought we picked it up.”
The momentum continued to tilt back and forth thereafter, but in the end, the four goals conceded by Cornell were too much, and the Dutchmen came out on top.
“[We had] no attention to detail throughout the course of the night, which was disappointing,” Schafer said.
A key moment came in the third period right after Union took a 3-2 lead. Cornell dusted itself off as freshman Tristan Mullin evened the score a minute after the home team had taken the lead. The wind was in the Red’s sails. However, the visitors would not find the back of the net for the remainder of the contest.
The Red’s achilles heel on Saturday was the penalty kill, which was unsuccessful in preventing a Union score in all three chances. In Cornell’s last 46 penalty kill chances, it has given up just seven goals, but five tallies to Union alone, including two from the teams’ previous matchup Feb. 2 at Lynah Rink.
“On the first [penalty kill] we didn’t pick our sticks up around the net,” Schafer said. “Second one we didn’t squash down low and [Union’s Cole Maier] made a great play from behind the net, and on the third one our goaltender has to make the save.”
The game presented a potential preview of a matchup that could be seen deep into the ECAC playoffs. If the two teams meet again, it will be on neutral olympic ice at Lake Placid in the conference championship game.
“There’s a lot of hockey to be played,” Schafer said. “We look forward to whoever we play.”
The top-seeded Red has this weekend off before a quarterfinal playoff series at Lynah in two weeks against the lowest remaining seed after this coming weekend’s first round.