ITHACA, N.Y. — The Big Red looked solid on Saturday night as they downed Alabama-Huntsville 5-2 in front of 3,832 rowdy fans at Lynah Rink.
Both teams looked sluggish in the first few minutes of the game, and it took some time before either could generate good scoring opportunities. The Chargers managed to break the deadlock following a congested battle for possession in front of Cornell’s net at 6:50 into the first period.
Cornell’s defenders managed to tie up UAH’s Steve Charlebois and Steve Milosevski at the top of the crease, but neglected winger Karlis Zirnis, who positioned himself directly behind the Big Red’s goal. When Charlebois managed to feed him the puck, Zirnis quickly wrapped around the far side of the goal, sneaking the puck past the outstretched legs of goaltender Matt Underhill.
Their early goal was enough to give the Chargers the lead for the whole of the first period, but Cornell did not leave the first stanza without some quality chances of its own. Jason Tinwick and Joel Bresciani of Huntsville were called for holding penalties shortly after the first goal of the game, giving Cornell back-to-back power plays. But, thanks largely to excellent man-down play by feisty forward Jared Ross, Alabama escaped the opening third of the game with its lead intact.
Cornell came out of the locker room with all cylinders firing at the start of the second period. This renewed vigor first made its mark on the scoreboard at 4:17, when Krzyzstof Wieckowski netted the Big Red’s first goal of the contest from close range. Just 1:27 later, Wieckowski found the net again when he redirected a shot from teammate Charlie Cook into the Charger goal during Cornell’s first power play of the period.
Playing a quicker, more open type of hockey, Cornell went on to score the eventual game-winner at 10:18. The goal was set up when Brian McMeekin of the Big Red broke into Charger territory and fired a shot several feet wide of goaltender Mark Byrne’s net. The puck deflected off the end boards and slid in front, right onto the stick of Scott Krahn, who was waiting in the slot. Krahn had little trouble finishing the play for his first goal of the season.
The Big Red looked to be heading into the final period with the game comfortably in hand until the very last second before intermission. Alabama-Huntsville’s Jess Otis gained control of the puck along the boards near Cornell’s blue line. Seeing that defender Jeremy Downs of Cornell was not covering Tyler Butler closely in the high slot, Otis dished to his linemate in the middle of the attacking zone. Butler sent a hard one-timer between the legs of Underhill for a rare nutmeg and UAH’s final tally of the evening at 19:59.
Coach Mike Schafer of Cornell talked about his team’s defensive lapse on Alabama’s second goal.
“Jeremy Downs knew he made a mistake, it was a freshman mistake, and we talked about that. You know in hockey, everybody has had that happen to them… that’s just part of life. I like how Jeremy handled it; I like how our team handled it. You could see all our heads shake in the locker room, knowing that it’s a game of mistakes, and that it’s going to happen.”
Despite his costly mistake, Schafer was quick to praise Downs and the rest of his team for returning to the ice for the third period with all the intensity they had exhibited before the goal.
“He [Downs] played very, very solid. I liked how he arose and he was competitive. That was critical how we responded, and that’s good character.”
The third period saw Huntsville’s skaters frustrated with their inability to maintain offensive pressure. That frustration led to two costly penalties, both of which resulted in power-play goals for the Big Red. Doug Murray scored the first and assisted on the second, bringing his point total for the weekend to five.
Saturday’s win completes a two-game sweep of the Chargers for Cornell, moving the Big Red to 2-0 on the season. This weekend’s disappointing road trip drops Alabama-Huntsville to 5-3. Next weekend the Big Red will face Union and RPI in ECAC play. The Chargers return to Alabama, where they will face CHA foe Niagara in a two-game series.