This story has been updated.
After falling to Harvard in overtime on Friday night, men’s hockey played another close game against Dartmouth on Saturday. This time, Cornell emerged from a nail-biter with a 1-0 victory over Dartmouth (1-8-1, 1-5-1 ECAC).
“This was a big confidence boost for us coming back,” said sophomore goaltender Ian Shane.
As it did on Friday, the Red (7-5, 5-3 ECAC) scored early and had plenty of chances to extend its lead, but could not pull away from its opponent. Yet despite the small lead, the Red stayed confident and didn’t panic.
“That was the first time I really sensed that, in these games that are really tight, we were comfortable with it,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We’re comfortable with that 1-0 lead.”
For the second night in a row, senior defenseman Travis Mitchell struck early to give Cornell a 1-0 lead. Nearly three minutes into the first period, Mitchell scored on a blast from the point after senior forward Matt Stienburg sent junior forward Gabe Seger’s faceoff win his way.
It was the third time in its last three games that the Red has gotten on the board in the first three minutes.
“It’s huge,” said senior forward Jack Malone. “It’s awesome to be able to play with that early lead and try to build off that. It’s obviously a lot better than having to fight back from a one-goal lead.”
After the early goal, the Red adopted a defensive mindset that continued for the rest of the game, particularly on special teams.
Cornell found itself undermanned twice in the first period after freshman forward Winter Wallace took two penalties in the offensive zone. Cornell’s penalty kill unit, which entered the night 7th in the nation at 87.5 percent, shut the Big Green down and only allowed one shot across the two Dartmouth power plays.
“We just stayed to our details,” Shane said. “We really didn’t let them get in front of my eyes or get opportunities closer, so I think it made everybody’s job easier and made it easier to get pucks out of the zone.”
The other special teams unit was not as successful – Cornell came up empty on two power plays in the second period and could not jump out to a two goal lead. The Red outshot Dartmouth 11-1 in the second period, but entered the third with a narrow 1-0 lead.
The third period presented more opportunities for the Red to break things open, including open looks for senior forward Ben Berard and Malone. Dartmouth’s Cooper Black, a 6 ‘8 freshman playing his first game at Lynah, kept his team in it with big saves. Black finished the night with 26 saves.
“I would’ve loved to put that one in and give us a more comfortable lead in the third period,” Malone said, reminiscing on his stopped breakaway chance.
Sophomore goaltender Ian Shane preserved his low-volume shutout on the other end of the ice. Midway through the third period, Shane came up with a big glove save on a shot through traffic to preserve Cornell’s lead.
Cornell’s great execution on the defensive end of the ice made the difference on a night in which it was hamstrung offensively. Cornell outshot the Big Green by nearly a 3-1 margin, and Shane finished with an 11 save shutout. Shane gave all credit for his shutout to the team in front of him.
“Only having to see 11 shots in 60 minutes makes my job pretty easy,” Shane said.
Cornell’s defense was so strong that Dartmouth pulled Black with just under three minutes left in the game. The Big Green mounted sustained pressure with the extra attacker, but clutch saves by Shane and blocked shots by the Cornell defense kept them off the board.
While Cornell’s skaters couldn’t get on the score sheet, they contributed in a different way – blocking shots. The Red ended the game with 18 blocked shots, including five while Dartmouth had their extra attacker on.
“They had more saves than I did tonight,” Shane said. “It was a really good sign for the d-corps. Everyone’s really happy with that on our back-end.”
“Having a lot of blocked shots was really key,” Schafer added.
While there was extra emphasis placed on winning this matchup after the heartbreaker to Harvard on Friday, Cornell was also looking to end their first half of the season on a high note.
“If it ended differently tonight, I think it would have stung,” Malone said. “We recognize that this game is going to be big for us to build off of going into the break.”
After an up-and-down first half defined by long road trips and high-intensity close games, the break is appreciated by the whole team, including the staff.
“It’s been a grind,” Schafer said. “The break always comes at a welcome time.”
With the victory, Cornell heads into the break at 7-5 and in fourth place in the ECAC.