Friday night, freshman forward Ben Berard didn’t dress. Saturday, he recorded a hat trick against the ECAC’s second-best team and bitter rival No. 7 Clarkson in the regular-season finale.
Though the fate of the Cleary Cup was decided the night before, the contest between No. 1 men’s hockey and the Golden Knights was anything but low-pressure. And for Berard, who was a healthy scratch against St. Lawrence, it was a chance to show he deserved a spot in the lineup.
“Last week, I just didn’t think he played very well. He didn’t work hard enough, do the things we require … he needed to come out of the lineup,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
“I knew one game was probably gonna be enough to teach him a lesson, in the sense of making him understand how it hurts to be out of the lineup,” he continued. “And, I mean, obviously, story-book — he comes in to score three goals. You know, he more than learned his lesson.”
It was the team’s second hat trick of the season.
And perhaps the game between the two top ECAC teams was a foreshadowing of a conference championship game — or maybe the tension was just reminiscent of last year’s. The two most dominant teams in the conference have had their fair share of nailbiters in the last couple of seasons, not the least of which was Clarkson’s overtime win for the ECAC title last March.
While Saturday night’s game looked like it might end up another close call, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Going into the third period, Cornell was up by one. Exiting the frame, the Red had tacked on thrice more to put Clarkson at a four-goal deficit.
“The score ended up looking one-sided, but it was a hard, competitive game,” Schafer said.
Clarkson was the first to put up a score, with a power-play goal from Adam Tisdale 5:25 into the first frame after junior forward Alex Green was called for tripping. It was the second of 22 penalties in the game. Yes, 22 — with Clarkson being hit with a total of 51 penalty minutes.
Tisdale’s goal ended junior goaltender Matt Galajda’s shutout streak at just short of 203 minutes, good for the sixth-longest in Cornell history.
But before the first period was over, Cornell would notch two man-advantage goals of its own. The first would be Berard’s first of the night; next was junior forward Tristan Mullin’s ninth score of the season. Clarkson entered the game with the highest penalty-killing percentage in the nation but ended up surrendering three power-play goals to Cornell by the end of the night.
“I thought we created good movement — our passing was pretty crisp, our entries were good, I think our power play looked pretty good tonight, overall,” said senior defenseman and captain Yanni Kaldis.
The second period came and went with no change in score, but several infractions were committed on both sides, with 3:53 of four-on-four play over the course of the middle frame.
And in a game that was chippy from the onset, the third period was when things really started to heat up — in the final 20 minutes, each team was handed six penalties.
“We told our guys it was gonna be a big boys’ hockey game tonight,” Schafer said. “That there was gonna be a lot of physicality.”
It was already 8:05 into the third period when Berard scored his second goal for the first even-strength tally of the night for either side. Eight minutes later, the score was made 4-1, with sophomore forward Michael Regush putting any fears of a Clarkson comeback to bed.
A minute later, the major tussle of the night broke out when Clarkson’s Jordan Schneider lunged at a Cornell skater — he was charged with contact to the head and game misconduct and immediately escorted off the ice. Eight more penalties were distributed between the teams: four 10-minute misconducts and four roughing calls.
With under three minutes left, Cornell had a five-minute power play thanks to Clarkson’s major penalty.
The revered Clarkson penalty kill almost did its job. But with 9.4 seconds remaining in the regular season, Berard completed his first collegiate hat trick.
“Coach knew I had two, so he told me to go stand in front of the net and try to bang one in,” Berard said. “And it worked out.”
Even though Cornell won the Cleary Cup outright Friday night, the win over Clarkson remained valuable to the Red — with the NCAAs on the horizon, all eyes are on the PairWise rankings, which approximate seeding for the national tournament. Cornell currently sits at the No. 3 spot in the algorithmic system.
After the game, the Senior Night festivities began to celebrate the last home game of the regular season. The three seniors — Kaldis, forward and captain Jeff Malott and forward Noah Bauld — were honored as per Lynah tradition. Bauld was injured in Friday night’s game and could not play Saturday night.
“It’s obviously one of the best atmospheres in college hockey, if not the best,” Kaldis said. “The fans were special tonight.”
But it won’t be the seniors’ last home game — Cornell will return to the Lynah ice March 13 after a bye week to kick off ECAC Tournament play. As the No. 1 seed in the conference, the Red will face the lowest remaining seed.
“Now the real fun begins,” Schafer said. “The playoffs.”