This post has been updated.
All season long Cornell men’s hockey preached that, obviously, it would have preferred to win every game, but clinching a second straight Cleary Cup and learning to deal with adversity along the way would make for a livable give-and-take should the team’s struggles help come postseason.
And in a decisive game three, a microcosm of the 2018-19 season played out: The Red went down early before showcasing a certain tenacity with three unanswered goals to down the Dutchmen, 4-2, and punch its third consecutive ticket to ECAC Championship Weekend at Lake Placid.
“This team never seems to quit,” said sophomore forward Tristan Mullin, who trickled in the game-winner three minutes into Sunday’s third period. “… We faced adversity right from the start with the sweep by Michigan State and injuries non-stop. We haven’t had an easy road, and I think [we’re] a better team for that.”
“We had the toughest matchup of any team in NCAA hockey going into this weekend and we knew that,” added head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We knew that it was going to be a battle. It was, from start to finish. It was physical, it was well-played. … It came down to the third period of a two-out-of-three series.”
Now as the top seed heading to Lake Placid, it’s redemption time for Cornell after being bounced out in the semifinals by then-No. 7 seed Princeton last season and falling in the championship game to Harvard the year prior. In this installment, No. 2 Cornell will have to prevent lightning from striking twice against No. 8 Brown in the early semifinal on Friday.
“All four years for myself it’s never been an easy journey,” said senior forward Beau, who scored the equalizing goal 8:29 into Sunday’s second period in his final game at Lynah Rink. “And we’re ready for all the competition moving forward.”
The weekend featured a tenacity reminiscent of the 2016-17 season, when then-No. 6 seed Clarkson demolished No. 3 Cornell in game one of the quarterfinals, 6-2, before the Red stormed back in the following two games to advance to Lake Placid.
“This weekend definitely reminded me just like Clarkson,” Starrett said. “Union is a team that competes, they hit everything that moves too and we just have to be ready for every team’s best because they’re gonna bring it against us and we have to be ready to respond.”
Cornell at times over the weekend was maddening despite dominating. There was no shortage of shots and bodies flying in game one, but Union goalie Darion Hanson stymied nearly everything Cornell threw at him, whereas Saturday was a dominant performance for Cornell on both the ice and the scoreboard.
Sunday, however, was less so — the Red went down 2-1 in the first 10 minutes of the game before an equalizer in the second followed by two quick goals in the third secured the victory.
And Cornell replicated the early game formula it sported on Saturday as sophomore forward Kyle Betts sent home his second of the weekend just 57 seconds into the contest.
But that was essentially the Red’s only highlight of that opening frame. After not converting on a power play moments after the Betts tally, Cornell saw Union pot a pair of its own goals in a span of just 1:12 to seize the lead — once off the stick of forward Anthony Rinaldo and once from forward Sean Harrison.
The Dutchmen threw 13 shots at sophomore goalie Matt Galajda in the opening 20 minutes — just two shots short of the team’s tally in 60 minutes on Saturday — though Cornell ultimately outshot the Dutchmen, 34-29.
But with bounces being magnified by the millionth in the playoffs, Cornell had to thank some luck of its own to pull even. Off an offensive zone faceoff, senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan sent a shot on net that bounced around in front of Hanson before last touching the body of Starrett and trickling in.
“I was just hitting anything that moved and ended up hitting the puck into their guy and popped in,” Starrett said. “It was a huge momentum shift in the game.”
Starrett was right, because Cornell weathered a minor Union storm as the second period progressed before junior defenseman Yanni Kaldis absorbed a knee-to-knee hit from Union forward Parker Foo, who was assessed a major penalty that carried over to the third period.
And 3:05 into the third and with five seconds left on the major, Mullin threw a soft shot on net to try and salvage at least one power play goal for either side of the weekend — teams finished a combined 1-for-24 on the man-advantage over three games.
Forty-two seconds later, junior forward Jeff Malott sniped home the backbreaking goal.
“I was just trying to create something with a rebound,” Mullin said of his goal, adding of the Malott goal. “Just a heartbreaker for them, taking the wind out of their sails. Tough for them to get back after that point and it kept us rolling. … We didn’t have to panic, we were up two, that was a great insurance goal.”
As the top seed left in the ECAC playoffs, Cornell will take on Brown in the early semifinal game at Lake Placid at 4 p.m. next Friday.
“It’s happy in [the locker room], but we remember last year. It’s redemption time,” Mullin said. “Lot of guys returning from last year we are ready to redeem ourselves and go for an ECAC Championship.”
And for the five seniors in the locker room, Sunday was their last chance to play in front of the Lynah Faithful. For them, however, the more important prize lies ahead: the program’s first Whitelaw Cup since 2010.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment,” the senior Starrett said. “… It’s a good way to go out, though, for our last game at Lynah, and we have to get the job done now, hit the road and play some good road hockey.”