Sophomore defenseman Matt Cairns (pictured) filled in at forward for a depleted Cornell team that beat Dartmouth nonetheless.

Jose Covarrubias / Sun Staff Photographer

Sophomore defenseman Matt Cairns (pictured) filled in at forward for a depleted Cornell team that beat Dartmouth nonetheless.

January 19, 2019

Down a Skater, No. 15/14 Men’s Hockey Blows By Dartmouth to Move Into Tie for 1st in ECAC

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This post has been updated.

Playing short a skater, with a defenseman filling in as a forward and on a quick turnaround, it would have been easy for Cornell men’s hockey to make excuses should it have fallen flat against Dartmouth — a team that has given the Red plenty of fits on home ice.

But Cornell didn’t let extenuating circumstances dictate its play in Saturday’s matinee against the Green, avenging an earlier loss to its Hanover foes, 5-1, to extend its unbeaten streak to seven games.

With the win, the Red has tracked down Quinnipiac for a tie atop the ECAC standings with games in hand on each of its counterparts — the Bobcats and Yale.

“It’s huge for us. You look at the lines for us, we had defenseman playing forward and guys in all different positions,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86, who employed sophomore defenseman Matt Cairns as his fourth-line center.

Cornell played with a lineup of 18 instead of 19 skaters while four of its nightly starters sat — and most will continue to sit — on the shelf with injuries. In Friday’s 2-0 blanking of Harvard, the Red lost freshman forward Max Andreev with what seemingly will be a long-term shoulder injury and sophomore forward Tristan Mullin took a point shot to the leg in Friday’s win. He returned later in the game but sat out Saturday with an injury.

“I don’t think we are playing any different than we were in the first [half]. We got — we did — have some guys healthy,” Schafer said of trudging along with a seven-game unbeaten streak despite the injuries. “Guys stepped up to the plate tonight and did a good job playing in positions they’ve never been in before. Matt Cairns, I don’t know if he’s played forward for a whole game, but he did a good job coming in tonight and filling in for guys.”

Behind sophomore goalie Austin McGrath’s 22 saves in the midst of a battle for the starting job, Cornell received scoring from a variety of sources and five different scorers altogether in Saturday’s weather-induced afternoon contest.

Albeit against Dartmouth’s last-ranked penalty killing unit in the country, Cornell was 2-for-3 on the man-advantage Saturday to make it 3-for-6 on the weekend after Friday’s shutout of Harvard.

Since returning to action from the holidays on Jan. 4, Cornell’s power play ranks No. 4 in the country with a 37.5 percent conversion rate. At the beginning of the season’s unofficial second half, Cornell’s man-advantage was 20th in the country at 19.6 percent.

“I’ve said this: I thought we were just OK, but our power play carried the day for us,” Schafer said.

Power play scoring culprits came in the form of sophomore forward Cam Donaldson — his team-leading 10th goal — and senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan. On the first, Donaldson collected cut to /the net and received a pass from behind the net before sliding the puck by Dartmouth goalie Adrian Clark for his fourth power-play goal tally of the season. On the second, after a rare closing-the-hand-on-the-puck penalty on the Green, a laser shot from Vanderlaan’s bounced off Clark’s shoulder and in.

Connor Murphy scored his second goal in as many weekends after having previously not scored for more than two years.

Jose Covarrubias / Sun Staff Photographer

Connor Murphy scored his second goal in as many weekends after having previously not scored for more than two years.

But the scoring did not begin until junior forward Connor Murphy, finding his rhythm in the lineup after seeing an increased role this season due to injuries, salvaged what he called an overall lackluster opening period with a goal 6:27 into the game. The junior collected a rebound off a point shot from senior defenseman Brendan Smith and calmly slotted the puck home.

“He brings a lot of energy. He’s always brought that. His feet never stop moving, even the penalty he drew in there the third, his feet never stopped moving from the time he was going down the boards, he just would never be denied,” Schafer said. “He knows where to stand in the offensive zone, he goes right to the net. That’s how he scored his goal against Arizona State and again tonight. He works hard and it’s good to see him get rewarded.”

Murphy appeared in just one game last season and now has two goals in the Red’s last four games after a scoring drought that lasted over two years.

Sophomore Cam Donaldson scored his team-leading 10th goal Saturday.

Jose Covarrubias / Sun Staff Photographer

Sophomore Cam Donaldson scored his team-leading 10th goal Saturday.

“We’ve had a great team here the last few years and you always want to do what you can to help the team out and it’s great when you get an opportunity and make the most of it,” Murphy said.

“Connor’s probably one of my best friends on the team,” Donaldson added. “He works it day in day out. He’s always putting the extra hours in practice. It’s great to see it pay off for him, he’s such a great kid.”

Before senior forward Beau Starrett sealed the deal with a late empty-net goal, sophomore forward Brenden Locke netted Cornell’s dagger fourth goal of the game and his fourth of the season — all of which have come in his last six games since returning from injury.

But this one came only after an impressive display of hands and skill from senior defenseman and alternate captain Matt Nuttle.

“He stole the puck right from me,” Donaldson laughed of Nuttle. “I guess he had the right plans.”