Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer

Cornell came back after being down 3-1 entering the third period on Friday to punch its ticket to the ECAC championship game.

March 22, 2024

Men’s Hockey Completes Epic Third Period Comeback, Punches Ticket to ECAC Title Game

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This story has been updated.

LAKE PLACID, NY –– With men’s hockey down 3-1 after two periods, Herb Brooks Arena was fraught with tension.

The Cornell contingent bit its nails as the Red skated out from its locker room, looking to keep its season alive in a do-or-die ECAC semifinal game and forge a path to its first ECAC title game since 2019.

The Red did just that.

“You just don’t see that very often –– I’ve been doing this [for] 29 years. To come back [after being] down 3-1? Doesn’t happen very often,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. 

Down two goals after two periods, a triumphant comeback of five unanswered goals in the third period propelled Cornell past Dartmouth on Friday, 6-3.

Cornell will contend for its first Whitelaw Cup since 2019.

“You can’t even think about this game we just had just because you’re so excited to play for a trophy tomorrow,” said sophomore forward Dalton Bancroft.

Four underclassmen got on the scoring sheet in Friday night’s contest –– sophomore forward Nick DeSantis scored a pair while Bancroft and freshman forward Ryan Walsh notched a goal each. DeSantis and Bancroft, along with freshman defenseman Ben Robertson and senior forward Gabriel Seger, all had multipoint games.

While the first two periods were all Dartmouth, Cornell overcame a 3-1 deficit and picked up its play in the final 20.

Dartmouth unveiled an aggressive forechecking style from the get-go, which gave Cornell immediate trouble exiting its defensive zone. The Big Green’s stingy forwards ultimately culminated in the game’s first goal, when a feed from behind the net caught junior goaltender Ian Shane off guard, and Sean Chisholm fired a quick one-timer that beat Shane cleanly to break the ice.

Cornell couldn’t find an answer to Dartmouth’s opening tally, much in part due to Dartmouth’s ability to block shots. Of the 21 shots the Red attempted, six were blocked by the skates, sticks and shin pads of the Big Green skaters.

Of the pucks Cornell managed on net in the opening frame, all were swallowed up easily by Dartmouth goaltender Cooper Black. Cornell struggled to generate much offense from inside the perimeters and didn’t crowd Black’s crease, giving Black easy sight for his eight saves in the first period.

The Red evened the score just 4:15 into the second, when junior forward Ondrej Psenicka made a skillful play to collect the puck off a Dartmouth skater and snuck the puck past Black. 

Cornell couldn’t celebrate for too long, however, as Dartmouth retook the lead 1:10 later. A hard shot by John Fusco was wristed from the point, and a screen in front of Shane prevented the Cornell netminder from seeing the eventual go-ahead goal.

Freshman forward Jonathan Castagna was sent to the box a couple of minutes later, queuing the game’s first power play, where Fusco, once again, collected a hard pass and buried it past a sprawling Shane. Cornell proceeded to challenge the goal, but the call stood, solidifying Dartmouth’s two-goal lead.

While Cornell upped its shot count in the middle frame, so did Dartmouth. The Red notched 11 shots on goal in the second period, 10 of which were trapped by Black, as opposed to the Big Green’s 13 shots fired against Shane. 

“[Schafer] didn’t say much [after the second period]. We all kind of knew what we had to do,” Walsh said.

Facing a daunting deficit entering the third, Cornell had a power play and the opportunity to make it a one-goal game early on.

The Red hit the nail on the head –– a nice pass from Seger found Bancroft breaking toward the net, and Bancroft made no mistakes, sniping it past Black to cut into the Big Green lead.

“I don’t think we wore them down –– we got on a roll,” Schafer said. “As a coach, I’ve been on the other side. It’s tough when [teams] get on a roll.”

Riding its momentum, Cornell’s passes suddenly started clicking, the zone breakouts were smoother and things began to look up.

From there, the offense poured on.

“We were able to find five goals in the third period. So, I’d say we did a fairly good job of that,” Walsh said.

Junior forward Kyle Penney tied the game on a scrum in front of the net, collecting the puck and eking it past Black. The goal began an offensive onslaught for the Red, where it outpaced, outshot and outworked the Big Green after two rather dull periods.

Walsh notched the go-ahead goal just 50 seconds later.

Cornell’s tenacity and courage were on full display in the final frame, as its first lead of the game reignited the Red. From there, it was all over Dartmouth, smothering the Big Green skaters and firing pucks left and right against Black.

“We’re just a really relentless team and obviously having these young guys who are really hungry to prove themselves helps a lot as well,” Bancroft said. 

Dartmouth pulled its goaltender with over four minutes to play, despite trailing by one tally. However, two empty-net goals from DeSantis sealed the game for Cornell, securing The Red’s spot in the championship game.

As the final buzzer sounded, the Red swarmed its goaltender with a particular excitement. Not only did Cornell respond to the deficit with a five-goal final frame, but it did so with its season on the line.

“These kids –– I just want them to come out and play hard, and so much goes into that,” Schafer said. “We’re counting our lucky stars. We overcame a lot of stuff, but it’ll be fun.”

Cornell has appeared in three championship games since its last title 14 years ago.

“Our will to win never goes away,” Bancroft said. “We’re always positive, even if we’re down goals.”

Cornell will take on St. Lawrence –– which upset Quinnipiac in the other semifinal game earlier on Friday –– with the Whitelaw Cup on the line on Saturday at 5 p.m.