This story has been updated.
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Cornell welcomed Colgate to Lynah Rink on Friday night for the first game in a best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series. The game was Cornell’s first playoff action since March 2019 after the 2020 playoffs and the 2021 season were canceled.
After struggling on the power play and not finding any answers to the stellar play of Colgate’s Mitch Benson, Cornell scored three third period goals to earn a come-from-behind victory in game one.
The game also marked the first time Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86 was behind Cornell’s bench since Jan. 7 after he contracted COVID-19 and then had a cardiac stent inserted. Schafer, in accordance with his doctor’s recommendations, watched the first period from the press box before joining the team on the bench in the second and third periods.
“He’s a huge presence for us,” junior forward Matt Stienburg said. “When you see him come down there and essentially put it all on the line the same way we’re trying to do, that gives us a huge boost.”
The start of the second period – and Schafer’s return to the bench, marked a turning point for Cornell. The teams played a back and forth first period, with Colgate finishing with a 7-6 lead in shots. Cornell put its foot on the gas after the first, storming to a 37-10 lead in shots over the final two periods.
“I thought we got off to a slow start in the first,” Schafer said. “From there on I thought we got to work. We got to pucks faster, we moved our feet more and just played quicker.”
Cornell had a pair of chances on the power play in the second half of the first period. With 8:40 remaining and Griffin Lunn in the box for tripping, the Red’s newly healthy top power play line put the first sustained pressure of the game on Benson. A series of blocked shots and a save by Benson kept Cornell off the board.
The Red got a second chance on the power play two minutes later, but senior forward Max Andreev negated Cornell’s advantage after he took a hooking call following a bad pass that was intercepted by Colgate.
The extra space of the four-on-four action gave each side an opportunity. Colgate’s Elliott McDermott had an open look on a breakaway, but his shot went wide. On the other end of the ice, freshman defenseman Hank Kempf teed up a one-timer, but Gibson corralled the shot.
Colgate had a 42-second power play after its penalty expired, but the most dangerous scoring chance came when senior forward Kyle Betts intercepted a pass and tried to sneak a backhand shot past Benson, who came up with the save.
Benson’s six saves and freshman goaltender Ian Shane’s seven sent the game to the second period with no score.
“We didn’t come out great in the first period. Other than the seniors and fifth-years no one’s played a playoff game here,” junior forward Ben Berard said. “I don’t know if it was guys just trying to get into it, but we had a good reset after the first and we sort of took over from there.”
Despite the swing in momentum after the first period, Cornell allowed the Raiders to strike first.
Freshman defenseman Hank Kempf took an interference call early in the second, which sent the Raiders to the power play. The Raiders capitalized with 16:17 to go when Nick Anderson found a waiting Matt Verboon, who rifled a one-timer past Shane from the faceoff circle on Shane’s glove side.
The goal, which gave Colgate a 1-0 lead, was the Raider’s fourth power play goal against Cornell in three games this season. Despite the recent struggles against Colgate’s power play, Schafer did not blame the goal on any errors on the penalty kill.
“It’s gonna happen on a power play once in a while where the guys do their job,” Schafer said. “[Junior defenseman Travis] Mitchell was there and he executed, but they got it in the back of the net.”
A minute after allowing Colgate on the board, the Red had a chance to answer on the power play. Cornell applied heavy pressure and had its best scoring chance of the night when Berard received a cross-crease pass and had an open look on Benson’s backdoor. Benson miraculously spun around to stop Berard’s shot.
“I just didn’t get my shot up enough,” Berard said. “Credit to him, he made a great save.”
The crowd at Lynah seemed to think Berard scored and went into a frenzy, but let out an audible groan after seeing the players set up for a faceoff in Cornell’s offensive zone. Lynah was as full as it has been at any point this season. The crowd created a true playoff atmosphere in the first playoff games at Lynah in three years.
“Our students were electric tonight. That just felt so good to hear them and hear their support throughout the course of the game,” Schafer said. “I’m happy for them too, they get a taste of what Lynah is like, alive and well. It’s been a long, long time coming to have that atmosphere again.”
Cornell peppered Benson with shots down the stretch of the period, but the Colgate netminder stood tall and made difficult saves to keep Cornell off the board. The Red came close to equalizing with just under four minutes left when sophomore defenseman Tim Rego received a pass and cut to the net, but Rego’s wrist shot hit the pipe.
“It was frustrating. We had 20 shots in the second period, and a lot of grade-As right in front of the net and rebounds,” Schafer said. “He made some phenomenal saves.”
With a minute left in the period, a holding call on Colgate sent Cornell to its fourth power play of the night. Cornell notched two good looks on the second period side of the power play, but ran out of time and could not put anything together on the other side of the break.
Two minutes into the period, Alex DiPaolo was assessed a five-minute major penalty for a hit from behind. Down a goal and 0-4 on the power play, the all-you-can-eat penalty provided Cornell with a golden opportunity to tie things up.
“There’s definitely pressure. Anytime you get a five minute major, you don’t want to go the whole five minutes without getting one,” Berard said. “That situation in the game, down one, there’s definitely pressure to make something happen.”
Benson started the kill with an athletic pad save on junior forward Matt Stienburg’s opportunity after a pass from Andreev across the crease. He made another difficult save with just under 16 minutes left, seeing junior forward Zach Tupker’s shot through traffic.
Finally, with 15:47 left, Cornell got on the board. Cornell won the offensive zone faceoff after Tupker’s shot and Max Andreev fired a shot from the faceoff circle. Gibson deflected the shot, but the puck fell to Berard, who buried it to tie the game at 1-1.
“That felt good. We were down the whole game from the start of the second, but it didn’t feel like it,” Berard said. “We were getting lots of chances and we kind of knew it was only a matter of time before something went in.”
Cornell could not break the draw during the second half of its major power play, but the goal provided a boost.
“We wanted to get one bad to tie it. That goal was huge for us,” Stienburg said. “I guess in some sense that opened the floodgates and gave us that little edge of confidence, which is huge.”
Colgate opted to take a timeout with just over eight minutes left in the period. Through the opening 12 minutes of the third, Cornell outshot the Raiders 12-3.
With 1:27 remaining, Cornell broke the deadlock. Senior defenseman Cody Haiskanen managed to keep a puck in Cornell’s zone and get it to the net. Stienburg was in front of Benson and ready to capitalize. He poked a loose puck past Benson and into the net to give Cornell a late 2-1 lead.
“[Haiskanen’s] play is where it starts. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no goal. That was a huge play by him,” Stienburg said. “Once it’s down there it’s just a matter of trying to get your stick on it and whack away. Thankfully it went in.”
Stienburg’s goal to take the lead with just under 90 seconds to go was met with raucous celebration.
“That was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard it in here,” Berard said.
Colgate was forced to pull Benson after falling behind. With 50 seconds left, sophomore forward Kyle Penney scored on the empty net to ice Cornell’s game one victory.
The game one victory means Cornell will have a chance to advance to the semifinals tomorrow night.
“It’s big coming in here and we get a chance to close it out. You don’t want to go down one and have your back against the wall,” Stienburg said. “We have to come back and do the same thing tomorrow.”
Game two is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night.