Going into Friday night, a game between two of the nation’s top-10 teams — and a rematch of March’s conference championship — figured to be Cornell men’s hockey’s toughest match of the season so far. And Clarkson delivered, keeping the game close throughout.
But it still wasn’t enough for the Golden Knights, who fell to Cornell, 4-2.
“I think it is a statement win,” junior forward Cam Donaldson said. “We haven’t won very many games against this team. We’ve only won one [before tonight] since I’ve been here and it was huge to finally get a win — especially on the road.”
The Red improved to an undefeated 5-0 on the season.
The contest was a drastic departure from Cornell’s last, in which the Red dominated Yale from the onset. Against Clarkson, the ECAC’s two top teams looked evenly matched throughout, with 31 shots on goal apiece at the end of the tilt. Cornell failed to hang on to a lead against the Golden Knights until the third period.
Clarkson was able to avoid Cornell’s lethal power-play unit until the final 10 minutes of the game. The Red came into the contest with a 40% conversion rate on the man advantage — it exited with that number at a prolific 43% after the winning goal came from Donaldson.
Though the first period presented multiple opportunities for both teams, it ended scoreless. Clarkson, on its home ice, put forth a stronger showing than the Red in the first frame, shooting more than twice as many times as Cornell. But even with those skewed numbers, the teams looked well-matched.
Junior goaltender Matt Galajda’s play was a focal point — with Cornell’s three recent high-scoring games, the focus had been shifted to the Red offense. But in a game that was neck-and-neck throughout, all eyes were on Galajda, who ended the night with a .935 save percentage.
“He is rock-solid,” Schafer said. “When we needed him, he made some big saves on partial breakaways where we turned pucks over.”
It wasn’t until halfway through the second period that the scoring got started, with four goals all coming in under seven minutes. Two unanswered Cornell goals secured the Red a lead for only a brief period, as Clarkson quickly came back to erase the deficit.
Both Cornell tallies were the first of the season for their scorers — and, for freshman defenseman Travis Mitchell, it was the inaugural goal of his collegiate career. Mitchell struck first, squeezing the puck in amidst a flurry of activity in front of the net.
Just over two minutes later, senior forward and captain Jeff Malott sank one to double Cornell’s score.
With three of Cornell’s ultimate four goals being the first of the season for their scorers, offensive volatility throughout the Cornell lineup was on full display.
“That’s what I really like about our team, right — the balance that we have … that guys can step up,” Schafer said. “That was a hard-fought game, but I thought our guys responded every step of the way.”
But the two-point lead wouldn’t last long — when freshman defenseman Sebastian Dirven went to the penalty box for slashing, Clarkson found its momentum. 13 seconds into the power play, Clarkson’s Connor McCarthy put the Golden Knights on the board.
With under two minutes left in the period, Cornell let up a rare even-strength goal to bring the score to 2-2. The second period, which started in a 0-0 tie, ended knotted again at 2-2.
The third period went by as uneventfully as the first until Clarkson’s Josh Dunne committed his team’s first penalty of the game with a hooking call.
Donaldson broke the second tie of the match on Cornell’s only power play of the game with 9:34 left in the third period, finding the puck as it bounced away from the goal to flip it back in past Clarkson goaltender Frank Marotte.
“We’re ready to pounce on [the power-play opportunity] and, you know, if we’re given an opportunity like that only once a game, we gotta bury that, bear down,” Donaldson said.
In those final 10 minutes, Clarkson couldn’t come back. With a little over a minute and a half left in the contest, the Golden Knights saw their best chance at tying the game when they took over on offense, dominating in front of the Cornell goal. With its own net empty and a sixth skater on the attack, Clarkson made quick passes in front of junior goaltender Matt Galajda and sent one flying toward the net, only for him to stop it in the crease.
The sequence preceding Regush's empty-netter — immediately before he beats out the Clarkson skater to score the Red's fourth of the game, Galajda makes what ended up being the game-saving play. pic.twitter.com/2vxfnysvAL
— Christina Bulkeley (@CBulkeleySun) November 16, 2019
Cornell cleared the puck out of its own defensive zone, where sophomore forward Michael Regush was able to keep it out of the possession of a Clarkson skater. He took it the rest of the way down the ice to put it in the empty Golden Knights net to make the score 4-2 with 1:28 left.
Tomorrow, Cornell will go for its first North Country sweep since 2005 when the Red takes on St. Lawrence.
“Our guys have gotta understand, [St. Lawrence] took [Clarkson] on their home ice to two overtime games, back-to-back, so we’ll have our work cut out for us on their home ice,” Schafer said.
Tomorrow’s game is slated for 7 p.m. at the Roos House Ice Arena in Canton, N.Y.