Anthony Corrales/Sun Senior Photographer

Men's hockey advances to the regional final after its 3-1 win against Maine.

March 28, 2024

Men’s Hockey Stifles Maine, 3-1, Advances to Regional Final

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This article has been updated.

SPRINGFIELD, M.A. — Men’s hockey is one win away from the Frozen Four.

For the second straight year, Cornell is going to the NCAA regional finals, but it wasn’t pretty — Cornell struggled to match Maine’s speed, a team that ranks fifth in the country in Pairwise and was the second seed in the Northeast Regional.

But aided by a two-goal performance by junior forward Sullivan Mack and strong, 31-save showing from junior goaltender Ian Shane, Cornell upended the Black Bears to advance to its second consecutive regional final. 

“We grinded it out,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It was a good effort by our guys throughout the course of the night against a good hockey team.”

After the victory, Cornell is just one win away from the Frozen Four. Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 is now 10-4 in regional semifinals in his tenure.

Drama unfolded even before puck drop, which was delayed 90 minutes due to the previous semifinal game between Massachusetts and Denver going to double overtime.

Across the ice from the Red, Maine’s starting goaltender as of late — Albin Boija — was not listed as the starting goaltender. Boija reportedly missed Maine’s morning skate due to sickness, giving Victor Ostman — a senior that notched All-ECAC second team honors in 2023 — the nod in net.

“I think you hit this point in time [where] you just worry about yourself and not who’s in their goal,” Schafer said. 

Shane, though, was the netminder that stole the show. Despite Maine’s speed and high shot volumes, Shane looked unphased as he batted away shot after shot. He made 31 saves — including many in a Maine offensive onslaught in the first period — en route to the 3-1 victory.

“[The team] made my job really easy,” Shane said. “Anytime they can keep a lot of shots from the outside, I should be able to do my job behind them.”

Once the puck was finally dropped, the pace of play was quick, seemingly making up for missed time. Maine began the game with two grade-A chances in the first minute, but Shane batted both away. From there, both teams struggled to get the puck through the opposing team’s forecheck.

Maine ultimately capitalized on an odd-man rush around six minutes into the game. It was Maine’s top line that got the job done, as Donavan Villeneuve-Houle found Harrison Scott wide open in the slot, who made no mistakes in wristing the puck cleanly past Shane. 

Cornell found itself in deeper trouble when, not long after Maine’s opening tally, freshman forward Ryan Walsh was sent off for a five-minute, hit-from-behind penalty. 

The Maine power play, though red-hot as of late, couldn’t find the back of the net — largely attributable to the play of Shane, who made several point-blank saves as the Red struggled to match up with Maine’s speed. The successful kill invigorated Cornell, which even got a few short-handed opportunities.

“They buried it [and] then we took the five-minute major, and [Shane] had a couple huge saves [and] we had a great penalty kill,” Schafer said. “That, to me, was the turning point of the game.”

That pressure paid off with six minutes left in the period, when junior forward Kyle Penney collected a pass from senior forward Gabriel Seger, delaying enough to get the Maine goaltender off balance. Penney fired a rocket over the shoulder of Victor Ostman — making his first start since Feb. 17 — to even the score.

Cornell stayed patient on defense, which was ultimately its biggest weapon. Slowly but surely, the Red shortened the gap in the shot department, which included firing nine on net in the frame.

The one that went in was nothing short of a beauty — Mack came booming down the right wing and fired a snipe beneath the blocker of Ostman to give Cornell its first lead of the game with just under eight minutes left in the middle frame. 

Mack, who, according to Schafer, was questionable to slot into the lineup on Thursday after getting banged up in the ECAC title game last Saturday, had his wrist shot down to a science.

“Couple of huge goals by Sullivan,” Schafer said. “He didn’t even know if he was gonna play this week. He got dinged up a little bit in the championship game, and came out tonight and scored two big goals for us.”

Cornell dominated play following its go-ahead tally, nailing quick and crisp passes and peppering the Maine netminder. 

Cornell had an answer for nearly everything Maine tossed its way in the third, whether it was a blocked shot off the shin pad or a Shane glove save. The Black Bears looked frustrated by Cornell’s composure and its discipline — in fact, after the major infraction by Walsh in the game’s opening minutes, Cornell stayed out of the penalty box entirely.

The Red cushioned its lead just over halfway into the third, when Mack fired a shot low against Ostman and found the back of the net. It was Mack’s second unassisted tally of the night, and one that ultimately sucked the wind out of Maine’s sails. 

“We had numbers coming back [and] I know they [tend to] slide, but then once that [pass] option went away, I just kind of dragged it and tried to get shot,” Mack said. “I was just really excited.”

Maine pulled Ostman with 2:32 left in the game, but a late stand in its defensive zone ultimately sealed the win for Cornell. 

The win is Schafer’s tenth in regional semifinals and the fifth of which came with Cornell being the lower-seeded team.

“We wanted to make sure we kept that underdog mentality, kept that chip on our shoulder [after the ECAC title] — just make sure we weren’t complacent coming into this weekend,” Shane said. “We all knew in the locker room that we still had something to prove.”

Schafer praised the composure of the younger players on the roster — eight freshmen slotting into the lineup for their first tastes of NCAA tournament action.

“The biggest stage doesn’t bother them,” Schafer said. “It didn’t bother them in Lake Placid, it didn’t bother them here tonight. I’m very proud of them.”

Cornell will take on Denver in the Springfield regional final on Saturday, with a spot in the Frozen Four on the line. Puck drop is set for 4 p.m.