Riding an eight-game unbeaten streak into Lynah Rink, Cornell men’s hockey was rolling thanks to a humming top line and two strong goaltenders. But on Saturday, it was the Red’s opponent’s top forwards and netminder that made the difference in the back end of a home-and-home.
Colgate downed No. 12/11 Cornell in overtime, 3-2, on Saturday to snap the Red’s unbeaten streak that dated back to early December. Raider goaltender Mitch Benson was stellar, making 41 saves, many of them on Grade-A Cornell opportunities.
“Besides their top line, [Benson] was the best player on the ice for both teams tonight,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
The final minutes of the third period and the game-winning goal in overtime showcased Benson and Colgate’s top line — some highlight-reel saves by Benson sent the game to the extra period and a hard-fought goal by Colgate’s top forward trio sealed the deal with just over a minute left in the sudden-death OT.
🚨🚨🚨 Ready for the rebound, Snodgrass snatches his second of the night to lift Colgate to a 3-2 overtime win at No. 11/12 Cornell! pic.twitter.com/1341LvAZBx
— Colgate Men’s Hockey (@ColgateMIH) January 27, 2019
Colgate’s top line of John Snodgrass, Josh McKechney and Bobby McMann scored or assisted on all three of the Raiders’ goals, as well as both in Friday night’s game one, which went in favor of the Red. All three came against Cornell’s top defensive trio of forwards.
“Their top line killed our top [checking] line,” Schafer said. “Beau Starrett, Jeff Malott and Mitch Vanderlaan, minus-three against them tonight. … They scored all five [goals] for them this weekend and our guys never caught on the whole weekend, they just didn’t get it.”
“[Their top line] just beat us one-on-one,” said the captain, Vanderlaan. “They made plays and we didn’t. We didn’t do what we needed to stop them.”
Like it has for much of the season — and like it did in Friday’s 3-2 road win over the Raiders — Cornell got off to a hot start in the first period. It took sophomore forward Morgan Barron only two minutes of Saturday’s contest to take advantage of a turnover and rip a shot past Benson.
But just 20 seconds of game time late in the first and early in the second was enough to swing the contest in favor of the visitors and chase sophomore goaltender Austin McGrath from the game.
With 4.5 seconds left in the first, Cornell committed a turnover of its own, allowing John Snodgrass to tie the game heading into the first intermission. Fifteen seconds into the second, another turnover-caused goal, this time scored by Paul Meyer to make it 2-1 Raiders.
“We had the last change and we put [out] Beau Starrett, Jeff Malott and Mitch Vanderlaan — three upperclassmen,” Schafer said. “We turn it over, didn’t pick guys up and didn’t do the job coming back in our own zone on the goal too. Those guys, they just didn’t get the job done tonight.”
In addition to his disappointment with Starrett, Malott and Vanderlaan, Schafer wasn’t pleased with McGrath’s effort on the second Raider goal and yanked the netminder in favor of sophomore Matt Galajda.
“I didn’t think [McGrath] battled hard enough to fight around the screen that was there. I just didn’t think he battled through traffic enough to get there, so I had to make a change,” Schafer said.
With momentum turned his team’s way, Benson stood on his head. On a Cornell 5-on-3 power play near the end of the second, Benson made a sprawling glove save to rob senior captain Mitch Vanderlaan of the game-tying goal. The Red outshot the visitors, 17-5, in the second period. But Benson was there for Colgate on each attempt, many from prime real estate.
Early in the second, after Cornell killed a Matt Cairns penalty (one of two he committed in the first two periods), Cairns nearly evened up the score but failed to convert on two Grade-A opportunities.
One of Benson’s best saves came on a one-timer from senior defenseman Alec McCrea with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
“You gotta bury your chances,” Schafer said. “We missed like three empty nets in the first period, we hit a couple posts and then when we had opportunities [Benson] made just freakin’ unbelievable saves.”
MITCH BENSON EVERYONE.
Colgate kills off the 5×3 with no damage all thanks to this guy 👇 pic.twitter.com/RzBoe7ou3K
— Colgate Men’s Hockey (@ColgateMIH) January 27, 2019
For most of the third, Cornell continued to control play, and Benson continued to preserve his team’s lead. But finally, with just over six minutes to play, Cornell’s top line cashed in. Barron found classmate Cam Donaldson, who snuck the puck past Benson for his 11th goal of the season. Barron and Donaldson have scored a combined 21 goals this season.
“Barron made a very nice play beating those two D wide and he passed it over to me and me kind of just shot it on net and somehow it went five-hole,” Donaldson said. “Just a fluke goal going against that good goaltender.”
With the score knotted at 2-2 late in the overtime period, it was the Colgate top line again beating the Cornell captain’s line.
“We got worse this week,” Schafer said. “That’s evident in our defensive zone play. Just look at the game-winning goal, we don’t collapse down in order to protect when a guy gets beat, we got guys fading out, we don’t communicate.”
After earning a win on the road despite a lackluster second and third period, Cornell dominated the final 40 minutes in the final game of the Route 13 Rivalry.
“Our effort was better tonight,” Schafer said. “I thought we played better tonight than we played last night, but we didn’t get the result that we wanted.”
With the overtime loss, Cornell is now in a tie for first place in the ECAC. The Red visits Union and Rensselaer next weekend.