This post has been updated.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Partway through the first period, Cornell and Brown’s ECAC Semifinal matchup had the makings of a blowout victory for the Red. Less than halfway through the second, it seemed that Brown might turn the tide and make things interesting like it did in a tie with Cornell in February.
But special teams proved the difference as No. 2 seed Cornell men’s hockey cruised to a 6-0 victory at Herb Brooks Arena on Friday afternoon to earn a spot in Saturday night’s championship game against No. 3 seed Clarkson, which beat Harvard, 5-2, in the late semifinal game. After being bounced out in the semifinals last season, the Red will look to earn its first Whitelaw Cup since 2010.
“It’s been a tough year all year; [our players] just kept plugging away and they even did that tonight, so I’m very, very proud of their effort and their commitment to get here, and I’m glad they get an opportunity to try and win a championship,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
A year ago as the top seed in the tournament, Cornell took on a red-hot Cinderella Princeton and ultimately lost, 4-1. On Friday, the Red was again the top seed and again took on a streaking squad, this time the No. 8 Bears.
Cornell dominated Princeton in the first period a year ago before suffering the uninspired loss. This time, the Red got off to a hot start and never looked back. After junior forward Jeff Malott was hit hard from behind, a video review led to the ejection of Brown forward Chris Berger and a five-minute man-advantage for Cornell.
Cornell took advantage of the all-you-can-eat five-minute power play to take a quick two-goal lead.
“It was a tale of special teams, obviously scoring two power-play goals right off the bat, a lot of penalties over the course of the night, the penalty kill did a great job of blocking shots and when they didn’t, [sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda] was there to help them out,” Schafer said.
During the power play, senior defenseman Matt Nuttle rifled a shot through traffic and beat a screened Brown goalie Luke Kania to put his team on the scoreboard first. Less than two minutes later, junior forward Noah Bauld cashed in, tipping home a shot from senior defenseman Brendan Smith.
After scoring zero goals and four points during the regular season, Bauld now has two goals and seven points during the playoffs.
“That’s a very good hockey team. That’s a team that’s learned their lesson. That’s a team that’s mature. That’s one of the best teams in the country, and we didn’t start the game the right way,” said Brown head coach Brendan Whittet.
Handy screen by Max Andreev, and Matt Nutlte has Cornell on the board first. 1-0. pic.twitter.com/KjR0MLRxzE
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) March 22, 2019
Sophomore forward Tristan Mullin caused a turnover behind the Brown net and buried a rebound of junior defenseman Yanni Kaldis’ shot to make it 3-0 with 7:52 left in the period.
A 3-0 lead would usually seem comfortable. But Cornell certainly remembered its Feb. 15 tie at Brown, when it let a three-goal lead slip away in a span of 53 seconds in the third period.
Early in the second period, after Malott fed senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan a grade-A opportunity and the latter hit the post — and a prime Brown chance somehow stayed out of the net — Malott found himself on the other end of a reviewed hit.
While the play initially didn’t result in a penalty, Malott was ejected for a hit to the head after a lengthy review, and Cornell was sent to a five-minute penalty kill of its own.
“It was just a long, long delay,” Schafer said. “It couldn’t have been that obvious. It’s an important part of the year, and it seemed like five or six, seven, eight minutes that it took to make the call. But the guys killed it and it kept going from there. All year long they’ve been doing a great job of killing penalties, blocking shots, and when they get there Matty’s waiting.”
But while Cornell took full advantage of its early five-minute power play in the first, Brown repeatedly shot itself in the foot during its chance in the second. The Bears committed interference, slashing and cross-checking during the five-minute span, allowing Cornell to go on a 5-on-3 power play of its own by the time the major expired.
“This time of year it’s something to appreciate on the team, it’s something that we know we need to be successful,” said sophomore forward Morgan Barron. “[A power play] is an opportunity, and we made the most of it.”
And on the two-man advantage, Barron easily cashed in, rifling a top-shelf shot from the edge of the left circle to make it 4-0. Cornell’s power play went 3-for-6 after going 1-for-14 in its three-game quarterfinal series against Union.
The Red’s penalty kill was a perfect 5-for-5 on Friday afternoon and is 14-for-14 in the postseason.
Morgan Barron with a rocket. 4-0. pic.twitter.com/ac6pQ1uyDQ
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) March 22, 2019
Less than halfway into the third period, freshman defenseman Joe Leahy tallied his first career goal, padding the Cornell lead. In four total playoff games, four Cornellians have scored their first goal of the season.
On a power play with less than eight minutes to play, Brown pulled its goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage. Sophomore forward Kyle Betts scored an empty-net goal for his third tally of the playoffs after scoring zero during the regular season.
Galajda made 30 saves for his second shutout of the postseason and 14th of his career to pass Ken Dryden ’69 on the Cornell all-time list. If the shutout wasn’t enough, Galajda recorded his first career point with an assist on Barron’s goal.
“Anytime you get a shutout it always feels good, but the guys played well in front of me tonight clearing in front of the net, and I saw pretty much everything so it made my job a lot easier,” Galajda said.
Cornell will take on Clarkson at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the ECAC Championship game.
“This part of the year is just survival … I get to play another game [and] I couldn’t be happier about it,” Nuttle said. “I’m absolutely pumped for the game tomorrow.”