This story has been updated.
MANCHESTER, N.H. – Men’s hockey defeated Denver, 2-0, to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. Cornell will face Boston University here on Saturday afternoon for a spot in the Frozen Four.
Cornell’s defense kept Denver’s dangerous offense off the board. Sophomore goaltender Ian Shane recorded a 27-save shutout. He has quietly amassed a .966 save percentage throughout the playoffs.
“I don’t know how he is not an all-league goalie. He has the second-best goals against average in the country and he doesn’t even get third team in our league or second team in the All-Ivy,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 on his goaltender’s performance.
The Red controlled play right out of the gate, firing the game’s first shots and dominating in the offensive zone.
Leading up to the game, Schafer emphasized the importance of being aggressive and getting up early on a team like Denver.
“I think going into the game we will be a lot more aggressive, a lot more physical in the course of the game and go after it,” Schafer said.
Cornell got the early start it was looking for. Just three minutes into the period, junior forward Jack O’Leary controlled the puck at the top of the crease and backhanded it over the shoulder of Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona.
“We wanted to put it behind them early and often…establish that forecheck right away,” O’Leary said.
Cornell continued to control the pace of play and execute its gameplan. The Red intercepted passes, blocked shots, and won battles for pucks. Denver took a penalty a few minutes after the Red’s first goal, but Cornell was unable to generate much on a disjointed power play.
Denver received a power play of its own soon after when senior forward Ben Berard went off for tripping. The Red’s penalty kill stood strong, containing Denver’s high-powered forwards and prolific power play unit, which entered tonight’s game ranked third nationally with a 27% conversion rate. Shane fended off the one shot he saw.
“The guys did a great job in front of me keeping the chances low,” Shane said.
Just as the penalty expired, Berard came soaring out of the box and into the offensive zone, where he and O’Leary found themselves with a two-on-one after a long feed out of Cornell’s defensive zone. Berard collected a loose puck around the net and buried it, extending the Red’s lead to 2-0.
Following a frustrating offensive weekend against Harvard in the ECAC semifinals, Cornell’s game plan altered just slightly.
“I wanted to make sure we shut down [Harvard’s] top line. But it was pretty evident that after self-reflecting the game, I made them too tentative,” Schafer said.
His team looked anything but tentative against the Pioneers, firing shots at Chrona and taking more risks offensively, while remaining strong on defense.
“Tonight we attacked more and weren’t tentative,” Schafer said.
Cornell got some of its best offensive chances in the opening frame, firing hard shots and creating traffic in front of the net. In turn, the defense made Shane’s job easy, allowing just five shots in the first 20 minutes.
From there, it was all defense. As it did during its three ECAC playoff games, Cornell was able to maintain its stingy defensive style and keep its cool after the whistle. Denver’s skaters were frustrated and tried to mix it up after plays were blown dead, but the Red was able to skate away. Cornell entered the locker room up 2-0 after 20 minutes.
“We’re doing the little things right, playing a disciplined system,” Berard said. “We might not have the pipeline offensively that other teams do, but I think we all play together and as a team.”
Cornell received a golden opportunity to open the game up just 24 seconds into the second period. Denver’s Justin Lee laid a hit on senior forward Max Andreev, which prompted a five-minute major penalty after a review.
Cornell’s woes on the man advantage, however, persisted. The Red struggled to set up in the offensive zone and took a few minutes to generate shots. Denver’s penalty kill, which entered the night with an uninspiring 78% success rate, prevented the Red from scoring on any of its three power plays on the night.
Just over the halfway point of the period and game, Cornell’s penalty killers were faced with their biggest challenge to date. Freshman forward Dalton Bancroft was nabbed for interference, and Denver was awarded a five-minute major penalty after a review.
While the Pioneers entered the night with the third-best power play in the nation, Cornell’s penalty kill was up for the task. Denver struggled to enter the offensive zone with the Red forcing them to the outside. The Pioneers managed one shot during its five-minute power play, and just five in the second period altogether.
After a scoreless second period, Cornell hunkered down on defense in the third. Denver fired 14 shots in the third, but Shane was up to the task.
“I thought we killed it well,” Schafer said. “Shane made a big save.”
Cornell had an opportunity to give itself some breathing room early in the third period when freshman forward Nick DeSantis was taken down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. DeSantis came up empty on the penalty shot to keep Cornell’s lead at 2-0.
The Pioneers pulled Chrona with over three and a half minutes to go, but Shane and the Cornell defense came up big. The Red dove to make multiple blocked shots while Shane made save after save down the stretch to preserve Cornell’s lead and send the defending national champions home.
The win sends Cornell to the regional final, where it will meet Boston University on Saturday at 4 p.m. for the right to advance to its first Frozen Four since 2003.