This story has been updated.
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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. – After another tough-luck loss to RPI on Friday night, men’s hockey traveled to Union on Saturday night with hopes of ending its six game winless streak.
Cornell got back in the win column with a hard-fought 5-2 victory over the Dutchmen.
“I think it’s a little bit of a relief for all of us, to be quite honest,” Associate Head Coach Ben Syer said. “We’ve had some good looks and opportunities and haven’t been able to close. To find a way to finish and close tonight, and to see the guys do it the right way and the smiles in the locker room right now, that’s what makes you the most excited.”
As it did Friday night against RPI, Cornell fell behind early in the game on Saturday. The Dutchmen struck first just after the 14 minute mark when John Kosack knocked a puck past senior goaltender Nate McDonald to give Union a 1-0 lead.
McDonald started for the first time since Jan. 2. Freshman goaltender Ian Shane was unavailable because he was sick, and freshman Joe Howe had a lackluster performance Friday night, finishing with 13 saves on 17 shots against RPI. On Saturday, McDonald finished with 29 saves on 31 shots.
“The defensemen did a great job of having my back and clearing the front of the net,” McDonald said. “That made it easy for me to see the puck and slow things down when I could.”
Cornell killed a penalty midway through the first and, despite a shorthanded opportunity for senior forward Kyle Betts and a power play chance of its own with 1:20 to go in the period, the Red did not score in the first.
Cornell opened the second period with 40 seconds left on its power play. It did not score on the man advantage, but Cornell never let the puck leave its offensive zone once Union’s skater got out of the box. The Red eventually capitalized on the pressure when Betts redirected junior defenseman Sam Malinski’s shot into the net to tie things up at 1-1 with 18:55 to go in the second.
The Red’s effort to generate momentum from the goal was hampered by two penalty calls. First, junior forward Jack Malone took a cross-checking penalty with 15 and a half minutes to go in the period. A few minutes after the Red killed that penalty, senior defenseman Cody Haiskanen was sent to the box for hooking. Cornell once again killed the penalty, this time thanks to a diving stop by freshman defenseman Hank Kempf, who made an athletic play to block an open look at the net.
Cornell finished the night six for six on the penalty kill.
“We just stuck to our gameplan,” McDonald said. “That was something we really needed to do. We’ve been struggling as of late, but when 22 guys come together and all buy into the process and stick to it, we come out with a good outcome.”
Cornell had a strong power play at the end of the period, spending the full two minutes in its offensive zone, but came away with nothing to show for its effort. The game went to the third period in a 1-1 deadlock.
It did not take long for Cornell to break the tie in the third period. With 19:23 left, junior defenseman Travis Mitchell launched a shot that Union’s Connor Murphy stopped. The puck slipped out and trickled behind Murphy, and Betts was there to knock it in, giving him his second goal of the night and Cornell a 2-1 lead.
A few minutes later, Betts’ fellow fifth year and tri-captain Cody Haiskanen chose a big moment for his first goal of the season. With 13 minutes left, Haiskanen caught Murphy out of position and fired a shot from the point into the net to give Cornell a 3-1 lead.
“When you go on a stretch like this, it’s a challenge for everybody. You really rely on [the seniors] to pull you through, not just on the ice but in the locker room,” Syer said. “Guys like [Brenden Locke] and [Haiskanen] and [Betts] … bring a lot of character and enthusiasm. They’re just phenomenal kids that the guys love being around.”
The insurance marker proved useful when Union snuck a puck through McDonald’s five-hole with 8:50 remaining to make it a one goal game at 3-2.
Cornell regained a more comfortable lead with just over six minutes left. Sophomore forward Kyle Penney found junior forward Ben Tupker with a nice backhand feed from behind the net. Tupker converted from the slot to put Cornell in front, 4-2.
“It’s always a race to three,” Syer said. “We got some greasy goals. It’s nice to see us get more than three tonight.”
Union pulled its goalie with two and a half minutes left, which allowed junior defenseman Sam Malinski to score on the empty net and secure Cornell’s first victory in seven games.
Cornell will look to build a win streak next Friday against St. Lawrence at Lynah.