At the beginning of every new season, Cornell men’s hockey has a required reading. This year, that book was Boys in the Boat, which instilled a specific mantra in the athletes’ minds: one guy can’t row too hard, and everyone needs to be present and contribute. It takes a team.
It was a full team effort on Friday night, as Cornell men’s hockey (9-4-3, 4-4-1 ECAC) made a splash on offense, defeating Ivy League foe Princeton (6-10-2, 5-6-2 ECAC), 6-2.
“I thought we came ready to play,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It was evident right from the start that we’re starting to learn a lesson, a little bit, as far as approaching the game playing the right way.”
And while one guy can’t row too hard, one could argue that freshman forward Jonathan Castagna did: the first-year stole the show for Cornell, securing a hat trick and an assist in the rout of the Tigers.
“[Castagna] had a huge night. [Recently] he’s been getting on top of the goaltender and hasn’t scored, but he played with great pace tonight,” Schafer said. “I think a lot of his goals came from us supporting our wingers through the neutral zone, coming with speed, and then he’s able to make those plays.”
Cornell came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, quickly amassing a 3-0 lead in shots within the first half-minute. Ethan Pearson, the Tigers’s netminder, was sharp, surviving the onslaught of Cornell pressure.
Pearson did not play the last time Cornell and Princeton faced off at Hobey Baker Arena back on Nov. 18 –– in fact, neither starting goaltender for Friday’s contest was the same as the first matchup. In place of junior goaltender Ian Shane, sophomore goaltender Remington Keopple had the starters’ crease for Cornell when Princeton scored a last-second heartbreaker to defeat the Red 2-1 in overtime.
Shane did not miss a beat in his first appearance against Princeton this year, making only 15 saves, but many of those were stellar. Shane has not allowed more than three goals in a game this season.
“They score a lot of different ways,” Scahfer said of the Tigers. “[Shane] made some big saves.”
While the first matchup between the Red and the Tigers was not Cornell’s most impressive of starts, Friday night’s game was the contrary. Ultimately, it was the Red that struck first, when sophomore forward Nick DeSantis cashed in on a nice series of passes from senior forward Kyle Penney and freshman defenseman Marian Mosko, who earned his first collegiate point in his first shift with Cornell.
DeSantis’s roof over the shoulder of Pearson was one of many goals the Pennsylvania native has amassed as of late –– he had a tally in each of the games against Arizona State on Jan. 12 and 13, after going scoreless in the first 13 games.
“Nick [DeSantis] is one of those guys that was really snake-bitten in the first half, and now he’s already up to four goals,” Schafer said. “Now, he’s playing with more confidence.”
DeSantis’s increase in production is a much-needed boost of depth scoring that the Red needs down the stretch.
“I’m happy that we’re getting some secondary scoring,” Schafer said.
Cornell earned the first power play of the evening when Princeton’s Jayden Sison went to the box after a prolonged Cornell offensive zone shift. The Red, as it did earlier in the period, possessed the puck well in the offensive zone but couldn’t find the back of the net.
Princeton had a close chance when a deflected puck rebounded unpredictably off of Shane, but the Cornell netminder smothered the puck and prevented any serious danger. Princeton was held to just four shots in the first period, juxtaposed to Cornell’s 13.
The Tigers upped the physicality in the middle frame, bodying Cornell skaters off of pucks –– even the 6’6” frame of junior forward Ondrej Psenicka, which led to a quick odd-man rush for Princeton that was knocked away.
A marquee Jack O’Leary shift got the Red back into the swing of things, after the junior forward went flying towards the net and nearly doubled Cornell’s lead. The ensuing offensive zone faceoff allowed for some possession by the Red in its offensive zone.
“Me, O’Leary and Mack were just having a great game,” Castagna said, speaking on behalf of his linemates. “I think we knew the details and we stuck to them, and we knew how to break them down.”
The second best power play in the nation –– a stellar 33 percent conversion rate –– belonged to Princeton entering Friday’s contest, and the Tigers secured its first man-up try 3:03 into the second when junior defenseman Tim Rego was nabbed for tripping. Some stellar defensive play by Cornell, aided by some strong saves by Shane, anchored Cornell to a successful penalty kill.
Cornell retaliated almost instantly, drawing a penalty of its own in its offensive zone. Cornell’s passing on the extra-man chance was quick and crisp, but perhaps depended on too much. The Tigers were solid in pursuit of the puck, breaking up passes and blocking shots.
The Tigers used their success on the penalty kill and earned yet another power play, adding to the special teams frenzy in the second. Six minutes of the opening 10:06 of the second period were played at five-on-four. Second time was the charm for the Tigers, as Noah de la Durantaye figured out Shane and tied the game halfway through the second, 26 seconds into the power play.
“We lost our way for about five or six minutes in the second period,” Schafer said. “They’re a good hockey team, and turn it into a little bit of a track meet, getting up and down the ice. The track beat that you don’t want.”
However, the Red did not dwell on the Tigers’ tally for long. 41 seconds after Princeton tied the game, Castagna received a beautiful feed from O’Leary and buried it, regaining the lead.
But that wasn’t all he had in mind.
In fact, Castagna was sent right back onto the ice for another shift. And just 31 seconds after his go-ahead goal, the first-year seamlessly dangled through all five Princeton skaters and fired a hard wrist-shot off the post and in past Pearson, cushioning the Red’s lead, 3-1.
“I don’t think anyone expects to score two [goals] in one shift, but I was pretty hungry for it,” Castagna said. “That was pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.”
Especially after Princeton knotted up the game and gained some momentum, the quick retaliation from the Red was key in controlling the fate of the game.
“Getting on that ice after they scored, we knew we had to make something happen,” Castagna said.
From there, Lynah was abuzz, and Cornell was rolling. The Red held off the Tigers’s desperate attempts, after they had the momentum shifted in an instant. Shane made a couple of key saves with traffic around his crease. There was a brief two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey, after it appeared Cornell would have a power play –– O’Leary was robbed of a clear breakaway attempt and was held by Princeton’s Mike Kennedy, but O’Leary was promptly sent off for a questionable embellishment call after he had fallen to the ice.
Cornell would see that two-goal lead hold into the third and looked to bring more defensive fundamentals into the final frame. Princeton had many more open looks and opportunities in the second, a period in which it more than doubled its shot count in the second, attempting 18 and putting nine on net.
Both goaltenders stood tall in the frame, as the game flowed and neither team took hold of the momentum. Shane made a particularly impressive left pad stop around seven minutes into the frame, where his weight was shifting toward the opposite direction, but he was able to make the stop regardless.
With two goals under his belt, one particularly strong player in the third was Castagna. His confidence was evident in every stride, making bold decisions with the puck and showcasing his offensive flair. The first-year got two grade-A chances before the period was half-over, but ultimately couldn’t find the back of the net for the hat trick.
Castagna made himself useful in other ways offensively besides his three tallies. With just under nine minutes left in the game, Castagna came scorching into the offensive zone and laid a drop-pass back for junior forward Sullivan Mack. Mack promptly fired it across the slot to a wide-open O’Leary, who waited for Pearson to go down before roofing it for the 4-1 lead.
“That was our best line tonight. I thought they were outstanding,” Schafer said, referring to the lethal combination of Mack, Castagna and O’Leary. “The other two lines could take a lesson from how they played tonight, as far as [playing] together [and] moving pucks, and they were quick.”
Cornell continued to stifle its opponent and played its signature pesky style of defense. Princeton struggled to gain substantial zone time and, when it did, it was met with a locked-in Shane, who besides that one blip on the Princeton power play, was stellar up to that point.
And, just when one might have forgotten about Castagna after his second period surge, he went right back to it.
An unassisted goal, Castagna buried his own rebound past Pearson with commotion in the crease, extending Cornell’s lead to 5-1 –– his third goal and fourth point of the night.
Princeton managed to get one back with five minutes remaining –– Nick Marciano cut the score to 5-2, sneaking one past Shane. Things got a bit dodgy for the Red after that, surrendering another power play opportunity to the Tigers, including a stretch of 6-on-4, extra attacker play for Princeton, but Cornell was able to kill off the penalty with ease.
DeSantis netted one late –– his second on the night –– into the vacant goal of the Tigers, and that 6-2 score would hold until the buzzer. After going 0-1-2 in its previous three home games, Cornell dominated in what was its first home contest since Dec. 2.
“Hopefully more students are back tomorrow night,” Schafer said, citing the scarcity of the student section on Friday night, given classes don’t start until the following Monday.
Tonight, Cornell will take on Quinnipiac –– who, on Friday, was upset by Colgate, 2-1 –– looking to avenge a previous 8-4 loss to the Bobcast suffered on Nov. 17.
“Because we did have a few mishaps earlier in the year, every game from here on out counts,” Castagna said. “And I do feel that we’re a completely different team. No one guy is going too hard, and we’re sticking to the process and not being too results oriented.”
In regard to ECAC implications, Schafer said the team isn’t worried so much about who they’re playing, instead turning their attention to how they play and maintaining a consistent gameplan.
“We’re just taking each 60 minutes on its own, not worrying about where we’re going and what we’re trying to do,” Schafer said. “But it’ll be a fun game.”
Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. at Lynah Rink.