Coming into its four-week hiatus over winter break, No. 2 Cornell men’s hockey simply could not find the back of the net on the power play.
In fact, on its last 18 opportunities, the Red failed to convert a single one of them, which culminated in the team’s sole loss to Dartmouth on Dec. 7. But clearly head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and co. made the correct adjustments ahead of the team’s matchup with No. 6 Ohio State at the Fortress Invitational.
Playing at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Cornell impressed all around. The Red went 2-for-2 on the power play, freshman forward Ben Berard scored twice and junior goaltender Matt Galajda continued his phenomenal play as Cornell captured a 5-2 victory against the Buckeyes.
After being scratched against Dartmouth in the final game of 2019, Berard responded with his best performance of the season. Entering the night with only one goal to his name, Berard provided the early spark that the Red (11-1, 7-1 ECAC) needed.
“He’s a great player with a great stick and a hockey mind,” Schafer said. “I thought he came back and was good after the break. He hit a little bit of a wall during the first half [of the season]. But he’s a natural goal-scorer.”
Six minutes into the game, Ohio State’s (12-5-2, 6-3-1 Big Ten) Ahac Layton was whistled for hooking, giving the Red its first chance to convert on the power play. Berard wasted no time in doing so. Taking a pass from junior Cam Donaldson, Berard fired the one-time shot past Buckeyes goaltender Tommy Nappier to give Cornell the early lead.
“That goal he scored tonight was awesome,” Schafer said. “We talked all week how hard it was to get into the middle against [Ohio State’s] penalty killers — they got great penalty killers. It’s really, really difficult, and if you’re going to get it in there, you better one-touch it in there, and that’s exactly what happened.”
While the Red was outshot, 15-8, during the first period, it still preserved its one-goal lead thanks to Galajda. The Buckeyes peppered Galajda with outside shots, but he stood tall in the net.
“Matty was really strong on net front,” Schafer said. “That’s a big strength of their hockey team — around the crease and forcing pucks in there. When they did, he controlled rebounds, and they had a couple big stabs at it, but he’s so strong down low, and he was up to the challenge.”
Cornell extended its lead in the second frame. Berard tallied his second score during the period, beating Nappier once again. But the Red struck earlier in the middle frame, and it came from Berard’s fellow freshman, Matt Stienburg.
After freshman Travis Mitchell launched a shot on goal, Stienburg successfully redirected the puck into the net to double the Red’s lead. The score marked the freshman’s first collegiate goal.
While Stienburg had a nice night overall, he did commit a careless error later in the period. Shortly after Berard’s second goal, Stienburg hit an Ohio State skater from behind. Following a review by the officials, Stienburg was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct penalty, resulting in an early shower for the freshman.
On the penalty kill for the first time, the Red continued to deny the Buckeyes at every turn. Buoyed by its strong defense, Cornell only allowed Ohio State to tally a few shots on goal as it effectively controlled the ice despite being down a man.
“It was a pretty unfortunate penalty that put us in a bind,” Schafer said. “But I thought our guys did a great job in killing it off.”
Later in the third, Cornell again capitalized on the power play. After the Buckeyes’ Quinn Preston was sent to the penalty box for boarding, junior forward Tristan Mullin tracked down a rebound and whipped the puck past Nappier, making the score 4-0 in favor of the Red.
Twenty-four seconds after Mullin’s goal, Ohio State ended Galadja’s shutout bid. Matthew Jennings forced a turnover off the faceoff to cut the deficit back to three.
For the rest of the game, the Buckeyes operated with an empty net, allowing senior Noah Bauld to deliver the final nail in the coffin. Ohio State added a garbage-time goal on a 6-on-4, but it was too little, too late — Cornell had already locked up its 11th win.
The win marks the Red’s second victory against a top-10 opponent, the first being a 4-2 triumph over then-No. 7 Clarkson in the North Country. Coming into this contest, Ohio State had only suffered four losses, all of which came by one goal. With Cornell firing on all cylinders, the Buckeyes simply could not keep up.
The Red once again displayed its prowess on the ice and the ability to defeat the nation’s best teams. Cornell’s stay in Vegas is not over — it will face No. 14 Providence in the championship. Shut out by the Friars in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals last year, the Red can achieve vengeance tonight at 5:30 PST.