This post has been updated.
POTSDAM, N.Y. — In a game that mirrored the 2018-19 Cornell men’s hockey season — wild, inconsistent and perplexing — the Red fell just short of clinching sole possession of the ECAC regular season championship.
While a 2-2 tie with Clarkson on Saturday means Cornell shares the Cleary Cup with No. 5 Quinnipiac, it’s a tie that feels like a loss for the Red. And earning a share of the regular season title is a disappointment given that the team controlled its own destiny heading into the final day of the regular season.
“We clinched a share of it?” shrugged head coach Mike Schafer ’86, unaware and unimpressed that his team technically had won a second straight Cleary Cup for the first time since the 2002-03 season. “We didn’t win it.”
“We should’ve won it,” said freshman forward Michael Regush, who scored his 11th goal of the season in the second period to give Cornell a 2-1 lead. “At the end of the day we were 40 seconds away from having it outright … so we feel like we kind of let it slip away through our fingers.”
With Cornell leading 2-1 and its opponent’s net empty just 42.5 seconds away from the Red’s first sweep in the North Country since 2005, Clarkson forward Josh Dunne knotted things up with an extra-attacker goal after the puck bounced off a pair of Cornell bodies and onto his stick, with an open net in his crosshairs. With a scoreless overtime period awarding each team a single point, along with Quinnipiac trouncing Yale in New Haven on Saturday, the Bobcats climbed back to tie Cornell atop the conference.
With the results, Quinnipiac earns the No. 1 seed due to its advantage against Cornell — one win and one tie — in the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Dunne’s game-tying goal came after a series of Cornell blocked shots led to a frenzy in front of sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda, who made 31 saves on the night.
“The guys up top are supposed to be blocking shots. The guys underneath aren’t, [and] we didn’t pick guys up,” Schafer said, adding that the winning goal resembled a drill Cornell often runs in practice. “The puck came down, hit someone and landed right on their kid’s stick.”
Now the No. 2 seed in the ECAC playoffs, the Red will have some time to breathe before it hosts a to-be-determined opponent in the league quarterfinals on the weekend of March 15. By that point, the Red should be fully healthy — save for sophomore defenseman Cody Haiskanen — as breakout freshman forward Max Andreev is slated to make his return from a broken collarbone.
A day removed from the end of Cornell’s streak of 41 straight killed penalties, Clarkson forward Devin Brosseau scored on a Golden Knights power play to open the scoring about halfway into the first period.
In an opening frame by Clarkson, Galajda kept the Red in the game until it was able to earn a lead in the second. Clarkson outshot Cornell 14-3 in the first period and 33-12 overall.
“Matty was great, he kept us in it,” said senior defenseman and alternate captain Matt Nuttle. “We probably should’ve been down 2- or 3-0 at the end of the first period.”
If Cornell had anything left to prove in the 2018-19 season, it was its ability to play from behind — the Red scored first in all but five games this season entering Saturday’s game, and entered the season finale 1-3-1 in games in which its opponent notched the opening tally.
The regular season’s final game, however, bucked that trend for a moment. Senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan opened Cornell’s scoring 5:19 into the second period with a power-play tap-in on a feed from junior defenseman Yanni Kaldis.
Just 2:02 later, Regush’s goal followed a fortuitous sequence in which the puck bounced into the air and found the freshman’s stick in the slot. The tally gave Cornell a lead that didn’t evaporate until the final minute of regulation, when the Red had its second straight first-place finish slip from its grasp.
After a weekend during which Regush continued his offensive production for Cornell — the rookie had two goals in Friday’s win at St. Lawrence — Schafer was left to wonder why his other go-to skaters didn’t step up with a league championship on the line.
“Mike Regush, that’s what you want to see out of our top guys,” Schafer said. “He brought his game to another level and I didn’t think that our best players this weekend brought their game to another level.”
“We’ll go back and talk to individual guys wondering why in such a big game — for the league championship — that we came out and played that way,” Schafer added.
After a first-round playoff bye, Cornell will host a best-of-three conference quarterfinal series the following weekend with a third straight trip to ECAC championship weekend at Lake Placid on the line.
“We’re definitely not satisfied,” Nuttle said, later adding of the upcoming playoffs: “An effort like tonight won’t get the job done.”