This post has been updated.
The only team that stood in the way of No. 1 Cornell men’s hockey’s pursuit of the Cleary Cup was St. Lawrence, which entered Friday night’s contest only sporting four wins this year.
In the second-to-last game of the regular season, Cornell notched its eighth victory in a row, defeating St. Lawrence, 5-0, to earn its third straight Cleary Cup for the first time in program history.
During its winning streak, the Red (22-2-4, 17-2-2 ECAC) has blown its opponents out of the water in the first period — often building insurmountable leads. But this didn’t quite ring true on Friday night. While the Red took the lead in the opening frame, it faced a strong fight from St. Lawrence (4-25-4, 2-18-1).
Still, it did not take long for Cornell to draw first blood. Just 1:49 into the matchup, freshman forward Jack Malone and sophomore forward Max Andreev took possession of the puck at center ice and began their charge toward the St. Lawrence net. Malone’s blistering pass found Andreev, who sent it home for the Red’s first tally.
“I got probably the luckiest goal of my career,” Andreev said. “It bounced off the pad into my skate and into the net. When you’re driving that hard, sometimes that happens.”
Shortly after, Cornell had the opportunity to double its lead following a hooking call on St. Lawrence’s Callum Cusinato. On the man advantage, the Red failed to convert as the Saints killed off the penalty.
From there, both teams traded shots with neither finding the back of the net. While the Red ended the first frame with a 1-0 lead, the Saints were still very much in contention. St. Lawrence, which upset then-No. 20 Harvard last weekend, held its own against the No. 1 team in the country, tying Cornell in shots on goal, 7-7, by the first intermission.
“They’re a little more used to their systems,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They battle for pucks, they’re tenacious and they did a good job. As a coach, that’s what you want for your team — to get better throughout the course of the year, and that’s what I see in their team.”
This same narrative continued early in the second. The Saints launched three shots at junior goaltender Matt Galajda, but he successfully defended the goal.
“It’s not like we were playing bad or anything, we just had to hammer in on the details of our game,” said sophomore defenseman Joe Leahy. “Once we did that, it paid dividends on the ice.”
After that barrage, the Red finally acquired some breathing room. Cornell regained possession and found the back of the net thanks to the stick of sophomore forward Michael Regush, who converted on a wraparound.
Fewer than two minutes later, Cornell continued to find its groove. This time, Leahy launched an unassisted rocket that zipped past Saints goaltender Daniel Mannella. That goal marked Leahy’s second score in the past two weekends, and he ultimately finished the night with three points.
“He’s starting to have confidence in himself,” Schafer said of Leahy. “He’s ironed out his game defensively and does a good job back in that area of the ice. He’s definitely developed over the year and a half that he’s been here.”
In what was already a chippy contest, frustrations began to boil over for the Saints. The Red received its second power-play opportunity after an interference call on Dylan Woolf, but Cornell again whiffed on the man advantage.
Later in the period, a small scuffle took place by the St. Lawrence net. Referees assessed offsetting penalties to junior forward Tristan Mullin and Jeff Clarke for indirect contact to the head and tripping, respectively.
The ensuing period of 4-on-4 hockey yielded no score, but not long after that period of play expired, both squads again found themselves sending only four skaters on the ice. With 47 seconds left in the middle frame, Clarke and senior forward Jeff Malott got physical after the whistle, resulting in offsetting roughing penalties.
To start the third, both teams finished out the 4-on-4, and St. Lawrence went on the power play for the first time three minutes into the frame. Freshman defenseman Sebastian Dirven was sent to the penalty box for holding, but the Red’s penalty kill succeeded, holding the Saints scoreless.
“We just dominated for the rest of the game,” Andreev said. “They didn’t have much offense going.”
Cornell went back on the man advantage soon after, following another infraction on Cusinato. The third time marked the charm for the Red as freshman defenseman Sam Malinski lit the lamp from the point to put the game out of reach for the Saints.
Even with the victory in hand, Cornell did not let up. With 1:37 left in the contest, freshman forward Matt Stienburg connected on the power play to make it 5-0. Meanwhile, the Saints did not find the back of the net down the stretch with Galajda buckling down in goal to pick up his third straight shutout.
“There’s a couple of guys who don’t see the power play a whole lot — Matt Stienburg and Joe Leahy — I thought those guys did an excellent job,” Schafer said. “We run power play in practice, and those guys are on it. They came out and executed.”
The win, paired with Clarkson’s tie to Colgate, locked up sole possession of the Cleary Cup along with the No. 1 seed in the ECAC Tournament for the Red.
“The guys were excited in the locker room,” Schafer said. “But if you’re in our locker room … they’re happy, but it’s not like guys were dancing around in there. It’s something you earn throughout the course of the year, and it’s been a long haul.”
While Cornell has already locked up the regular-season title, it still plans to play its best hockey against Clarkson on Saturday.
“We would almost rather have [Clarkson] win the game tonight and then come into the building tomorrow to battle for the regular-season championship,” Andreev said. “We’re still going to be really excited for the game tomorrow because it’s important for the Pairwise and we want to put ourselves in the best position that we can.”
The showdown between Cornell and Clarkson will take place on Saturday at 7 p.m.