This post has been updated.
A night removed from dropping a heartbreaker at home, Cornell men’s hockey used an emotional Senior Night to fuel a huge 3-1 bounce-back win over Union and reclaim its spot atop the ECAC standings.
“It was a good rebound from last night,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I thought we came out and started the game well. It was a much different game tonight.”
Cornell jumped out to an early lead on a power-play goal from freshman forward Michael Regush. The goal was Regush’s eighth of the season and fifth power-play tally. Later in the first period, a defensive lapse on the power play caused the Red to cough up a shorthanded goal, but that would be all for the Dutchmen on the scoreboard.
It was a special teams battle from start to finish — not unusual for a game between Cornell and Union. In the previous nine meetings between the teams, both sides had averaged higher than 30 percent on the power play. But Saturday was a slightly different story, with the Red’s penalty kill posting a stellar 4-for-4 mark on the night, bringing the team’s total kill streak to 39.
“We haven’t had a special teams game like that in a long time,” Schafer said. “Our penalty kill was outstanding. Blocked shots, and when we needed it [sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda] was there for us.”
Galajda had an outstanding night of his own, letting up just one goal and stopping the other 30 shots he faced. Union outshot the Red, 31-20.
In the second period, two seniors and captains connected for what proved to be the game-winning goal in their last regular season home game at Lynah Rink. Defenseman Alec McCrea wound up for a shot from the point, and forward Mitch Vanderlaan had his stick well-placed to tip it in past Union netminder Darion Hanson. Sophomore forward Morgan Barron rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal late in the third.
“We had talked about keeping our sticks loose in front of the net and having good net presence throughout the game,” Vanderlaan said. “[McCrea] made a great shot, finding a lane and getting down to the net. … It’ll be a good memory to have.”
The three other seniors — defensemen Matt Nuttle and Brendan Smith and forward Beau Starrett — also took center stage on senior night Saturday. Schafer elected to put all five seniors out at opening puck drop, with Nuttle filling the void at left wing in an emotional gesture.
This preceded each senior taking one final lap after the game’s end to the raucous cheer of the Lynah Faithful.
The farewell skate for @AlecMcCrea29 pic.twitter.com/cyyXIC5rZB
— Cornell Daily Sun Sports (@DailySunSports) February 24, 2019
“[The seniors], all five of them, have great character,” Schafer said. “They love hockey; they love coming to the rink; they got big smiles on their faces all the time; and they like to win. And they’re fully committed to everything: academically, athletics, their teammates and our program.”
With No. 5 Quinnipiac having lost to No. 13 Clarkson Saturday, Cornell returns to its previous spot atop the ECAC standings after being knocked to second on Friday. With two games left on the schedule, the Red could finish as high as first and as low as fifth in the conference. If Cornell wins out, however, it will clinch a second consecutive Cleary Cup as ECAC regular season champions.
Cornell is now back to sole possession of 1st in the ECAC after Quinnipiac fell to Clarkson, 5-3.
If the standings hold, it will be the first season in which both the Cornell men’s and women’s programs are ECAC regular season champs after the women clinched this afternoon.
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) February 24, 2019
The Red will travel to North Country to take on St. Lawrence and Clarkson next weekend in an effort to secure a playoff bye and the No. 1 overall seed.
Cornell will secure a first-round bye unless it goes 0-2 next weekend and Yale gets two wins.