This story has been updated.
No. 12 Cornell men’s hockey (1-0-0, 0-0 ECAC) dropped the puck on its 2023-24 season with a hard-fought 4-1 win against No. 11 Minnesota Duluth (3-1-2, 0-0 NCHC). It was the Bulldogs first loss of the season.
“I thought that was a huge win for us,” said head coach Mike Schafer ‘86. “They’re a good hockey team…they got guys who can make plays, [but] I thought our guys did a good job.”
It was all Red from the beginning, keeping the puck mainly in the Bulldogs’ defensive zone, with two great scoring chances. However, the game switched up pretty quick, with the next few minutes being kept mainly in the Red’s defensive zone.
The first power play opportunity was awarded to Red after a Carter Loney holding penalty just under halfway into the period. Coming into the game, Duluth had taken the second most penalties in the NCAA with 35.
With eight seconds to go in the power play, Duluth forward Anthony Menghini was called for hooking, putting the Red on a brief five-on-three advantage and an extended power play opportunity. The Red were finally able to cash in after a few quality chances, and it was sophomore forward Dalton Bancroft who gave the Red its first goal of the 2023-24 season, and a 1-0 Cornell lead.
The Red wasn’t even able to soak in its first goal before they found the back of the net once more. Just 14 seconds after its first tally, Cornell doubled its lead when junior forward Jack O’Leary used his strong puck-carrying skills and found senior forward Kyle Penney, who buried a backhand shot past the Duluth netminder.
From there, it was all Cornell, dominating offensive zone time and forcing Duluth’s Zach Stejskal to make some good saves. The Red were firing on all cylinders, nearly extending its lead to three when junior forward Kyler Kovich nearly backhanded it over a sprawling Stejskal with just over four minutes left in the first.
With four minutes remaining in the first, Cornell had outshot the Bulldogs, 11-3. While its offensive surge was impressive enough on its own, the Red held their own against the physical Bulldogs, knocking Duluth players off of pucks and laying some big hits at center ice.
As time dwindled in the first, it was the Bulldogs that had an offensive surge of their own, forcing Shane to make critical saves to keep them off the scoresheet. With 1:09 left in the first, the Red once again had the man advantage when Duluth’s Cole Spicer went to the box for cross-checking. Bancroft had a great opportunity to make it 3-0 on the power play, but the puck ricocheted off the crossbar and out. The 2-0 score held until the buzzer sounded off on the first period.
At the start of the second, right as one Duluth penalty wrapped up, the Bulldogs’ Ben Steeves landed in the box after a tripping penalty. Cornell earned its fourth power play of the night. This time, the Bulldogs’ pesky forechecking prevented the Red from establishing itself in the offensive zone until less than a minute remained in the man advantage, and time ultimately ran out before the Red could get a quality chance.
Both teams came out of the gates in the second strong, alternating possession, but it was ultimately the Red that had more chances on goal. Shane, who went untested in the first besides the four shots that Duluth put on goal, made some key stops just about halfway into the period to keep the Bulldogs scoreless.
Soon came yet another opportunity for the Red to get its third goal, when O’Leary separated himself from the Duluth skaters and had a breakaway chance but lost control of the puck, allowing Stejskal to poke it away.
The highly-skilled Duluth power play was put to the test when freshman forward Jonathan Castagna went to the box for roughing. The Bulldogs had some good chances right off the bat, but Shane stood strong, making a stellar glove save on Duluth’s Spicer from the slot. The Red had a shorthanded try, stopping it, the Bulldogs’ took a penalty of their own, allowing for four-on-four play for less than a minute. The four-on-four tilted in favor of the Bulldogs, who put a couple of prime chances on net but couldn’t find the answer to Shane.
On its brief power play after Castagna’s penalty expired, the Red went to work. Once again, Bancroft found the puck on his stick and fired it towards the net, connecting with freshman forward Ryan Walsh who tipped it masterfully past Stejskal. It was his first collegiate goal.
“It was pretty cool,” Walsh said. “[We] come out Lynah’s packed….[the] first shift was definitely nerve wracking but after that [I] just started to play hockey and [it] became second nature.”
Duluth had another chance to prove its power play skill as freshman defenseman George Fegaras went to the box on an interference call. It was the Red that got the first scoring chance, however, when Walsh broke out on a two-on-one, passing to senior forward Gabriel Seger who’s shot was deflected just wide.
The Bulldogs finally converted on the power play when Duluth’s Steeves backhanded a shot over Shane, who was down after chaos around the crease. Cornell proceeded to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but a quick review confirmed the Duluth goal and stripped Cornell of its sole timeout.
After its first goal, the momentum shifted in favor of the Bulldogs, who began to eat away at Cornell’s lead in shots on goal. Shane stood tall in net, stopping a handful of shots, including one that deflected straight off his helmet with just a couple minutes remaining in the frame.
The third period was split pretty evenly between the two teams, with both goalies making some solid saves, but Cornell continued to hold the edge in shots over Duluth. The period’s best scoring chance was by the Bulldogs, who fired a puck across the crease to a forward waiting at the back door, but a sprawling left pad save by Shane preserved the Red’s two-goal lead.
Unlike the two prior periods, the first half of the third saw itself to be penalty-free, rewarding both teams with some long-awaited five-on-five play.
After the back-and-forth play, the Red were finally able to cash in with just over four minutes remaining. This time, it was O’Leary who netted his first goal of the season off of a Castagna feed and extended the Red’s lead to 4-1.
The Red finished the last minute of the game on the penalty kill, as Seger was called for delay-of-game on what appeared to be a faceoff violation. Shane and the Cornell penalty killers were up to the task, stopping a late flurry of Duluth shots, ultimately closing out the victory.
The second of the two-game series is set for tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Lynah Rink.
“That was the first game and we got to come back with the mentality that we lost that game,” Schafer said. “When people lose, you face adversity and you have a different type of focus. And winning teams have a real bad taste in their mouth when they win or lose, they want more. They want to prove themselves and I think that’s where we are…we’re one game [in] and we have something to prove to ourselves as a hockey team.”