Ben Parker/Sun Senior Editor

Forward Matt Stienburg celebrates scoring the game winning goal.

October 30, 2021

Defense Dominates as Men’s Hockey Escapes Alaska Fairbanks in Second Consecutive Overtime Win

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For the second night in a row, Cornell took the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to overtime, only this time the defense prevailed on both sides, keeping the game scoreless through regulation. 

History somewhat repeated itself tonight, with another early score in extra time sealing the game for the Red and marking the second win — this time, at 1-0 — this season for Cornell. 

The night started off with freshman Joe Howe starting in goal. The goalie was tested throughout Cornell’s two exhibition games and quickly proved his worth in his first collegiate regular season start. Howe recorded nine saves across the first period, keeping the match as a back-and-forth affair early.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous before the game,” Howe said. “But then, you know, come puck drop, hockey’s hockey.”

Cornell’s first offensive test would come off a Garrett Pyke holding penalty, giving the Red a man advantage in the first three minutes of action. Alaska’s defensive unit would hold, as an open shot by junior Matt Stienburg would be blocked by laid-out Nanook goaltender Gustavs Grigals.

Grigals put on an impressive showing of his own in his second start against Cornell, taking away multiple Cornell scoring opportunities with his impressive reaction time. On the night, the goaltender recorded 24 saves behind the Nanook defense.

The first Nanook scoring opportunity came with Stienburg being put in the penalty box for interference. Alaska crowded the goal, but in Howe’s first try in a penalty kill situation, he successfully covered the puck with players getting chippy at the goal. 

“I think he was outstanding,” said Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86 about Howe. “[He] controlled rebounds and played the puck a couple times to help us break things out of the zone. I thought he did a really good job.”

Following the penalties, Cornell took the defensive for the majority of the first period before Stienburg was again placed in the penalty box, this time for holding, eight minutes into the contest. In Alaska’s second power play, Howe stepped up again to deflect two shots from Nanook players Pyke and Brady Risk.

Following the well-defended power play, senior captain Brenden Locke had the opportunity to open up the scoring with a breakaway shot on goal halfway through the first. Grigals once again stood his ground against the Red.

After a few more well-defended shots on both sides, Locke again took his opportunity on an open goal with 6:18 remaining in the first. In what may have been Cornell’s best early scoring opportunity, the puck was impressively caught by the glove of Grigals.

The match remained even until Nanook defenseman Antti Virtanen was placed in the penalty box for interference with 5:24 left in the first. Cornell junior defenseman Travis Mitchell attempted to capitalize, but his shot fell into the body of Grigals who allowed his defense to recover.

With 2:56 remaining, a too many men on the ice call on Cornell gave Alaska the advantage in the final minutes. Two more deflected shots by Howe though sealed the scoreless first period.

A final interference call on Alaska’s Brayden Nicholletts gave Cornell the power play going into the second period. 

Heading into the second with the advantage, Mitchell, along with juniors Jack Malone and Ben Berard, would each be denied consecutively by Grigals, and the Nanook defense would prove to be an extremely tough unit to penetrate.

The Nanooks took the defensive again in the eighth minute of action, with goaltending continuing to dominate with three more saves. However during the scrum, Alaska’s Riley Murphy would step out of the game following a brutal check.

Alaska would switch to the offensive in the absence of Murphy, and Howe once again stepped up recording two consecutive saves against Nanook’s Risk at the halfway mark.

A cross checking penalty by Alaska forward Colin Doyle would mark the only Cornell power play in the period with 8:47 remaining. However, nothing would amount besides an errant shot by junior Sam Malinski.

Finally, nearing the end of the second, freshman defenseman Hank Kempf seemingly finally sailed a shot by Grigals to give the Red the lead. However no score was indicated and play resumed after the controversial score review.

“We thought it went in, but I don’t know what the view on the overhead is,” Schafer said. “[Our] guys thought it hit and then landed inside and then hit the other post, but obviously, [the referees] have that view.”

The beginning of the third period remained more of the same, with each team switching sides between offense and defense but continuing to hold their ground nonetheless.

Kempf and sophomore Tim Rego each had the best opportunities to score in the early minutes, with Kempf having his shot initially defended by Grigals before Rego rebounded and had his shot blocked by the Nanook defensemen. 

The puck remained in Alaska territory, prompting more aggressive play by the Nanook defense with every passing minute. Every Alaska attempt at an offensive attack was thwarted, until they finally attacked the defense as a unit with 12 minutes remaining. Howe defended two strong slap shots to keep the Nanooks at bay and let Cornell regain puck control.

With time winding down and the score still at 0-0, Nanook forward Matt Koethe would find his opportunity to give Alaska the lead with an open shot and three minutes remaining. Howe, however, smothered the puck once again to keep the contest tied.

Facing the real opportunity at another overtime for the second night in a row, the Red took their final offensive drive headed by freshman Ondrej Psenicka before Stienburg stepped out with eight seconds left due to an injury from colliding with Alaska’s Jakob Breault. Breault sustained a major penalty violation, and the unceremonious end to Stienburg’s third period would also mark the end of regulation.

“[We need to] support each other down low and get pucks in the net while having a constant net presence,” said Stienburg, when asked about the lack of scoring in regulation the past two games. “I think those are things we work a lot in and I think … it’s kind of our identity to be a strong team down low. We’re going to get back to that this weekend and hopefully make some improvements.”

Because of the penalty, the Red entered overtime with a four-to-three man advantage. Once again, Cornell sealed the game early in the extra period, with Stienburg stepping back in to score the game winning goal only one minute into overtime.

“Obviously it felt really good to get the winner, but it was a long weekend obviously,” said Stienburg. “Two games going into overtime. They’re a tough team and they showed a lot of character for us.”

The win marks the second victory for the Red and a sweep over the Nanooks. The next matchup will be against Ivy League rival Harvard next Friday at 7 p.m. at Bright-Landry Hockey Center.