ITHACA, N.Y. — Scoring four goals in one game constitutes an offensive highlight for many college hockey teams. Cornell’s four-goal performance on Saturday night, however, registers as its smallest tally of goals yet this season.
Nevertheless, a win is a win, and Big Red head coach Mike Schafer doesn’t quibble about margin of victory when his team takes down Rensselaer in conference play.
“I was happy with it, we figured out how to win tonight,” he said. “[It was a] much different game than [Friday] night, [which] was a little bit more of a free-wheeling game — I thought we cracked down on them.”
The first genuine scoring chance of the game came approximately seven minutes into the first period, when Cornell goaltender Matt Underhill was hit with a hard slap shot in the chest. After hitting Underhill, the inertia of the puck carried it up and over his left shoulder. The puck landed in the middle of Underhill’s crease, and would have found its way into the net were it not for Krzystof Wieckowski, who intuitively moved into the goalmouth when he saw his goaltender out of position to make a follow-up save. Wieckowski swatted the puck out of harm’s way, and kept the Big Red from falling behind early.
A few minutes later, it was the Big Red who found themselves with good scoring opportunities following a penalty to RPI’s Andrew McPherson for holding the stick. At 11:34, Ryan Vesce got possession of the puck on Rensselaer’s goal line, headed for the net, and made the Engineers pay for McPherson’s mistake by registering his first tally of the evening.
RPI didn’t give up after falling behind, though. The equalizer came for the Engineers at 19:43 on what was certainly the prettiest goal of the evening.
The play began when Matt Murley gained possession along the left boards in his own zone. Murley launched a pass to Nolan Graham, who was waiting three zones away at Cornell’s blue line. Graham’s linemate Carson Butterwick caught up to the play, and raced into the zone alongside Graham, creating a two-on-one for the Engineers. When he and Butterwick reached the high slot, Graham pivoted to his left, while Butterwick continued toward the net, bringing Cornell’s sole defender with him. Graham was left with an uncontested look at Underhill, who he solved with a wrist shot.
Early in the second period, Engineer Steve Munn found himself in control of the puck beside his own goal. In what proved to be quite a costly error, Munn lost possession after a stickhandling error. The Big Red tandem of Wieckowski and Denis Ladouceur immediately pounced on the loose puck, and proceeded to set up Mike Knoepfli for the eventual game winning goal.
Again, Rensselaer’s skaters battled back, and even managed to outshoot their opponents, 12-9, in the second period. Their hard work did not pay off, however, as Underhill rose to the occasion and made some big saves to keep the lead for his team. At 18:41, Vesce capped of the period by picking up his second goal of the night on a rebound created by teammates Stephen Baby and David Kozier.
“It was real important,” said Vesce about his goal at the end of the second. “This year, that’s what we’ve been doing, we get an early goal, and then we separate ourselves.”
Early in the third, Cornell’s Doug Murray sealed the deal for his team when he rode RPI captain Matt Murley into the boards behind Underhill’s net. Murray was called for holding on the play, but his hit knocked Murley out of action for the rest of the game. Though the injury to Murley did not look serious — he skated back to his bench and watched the rest of the period after receiving attention from RPI’s trainer — the hit seemed to demoralize the Engineers.
Cornell held their opponents in check for the rest of the contest, winning 4-1 after a late power-play goal by Sam Paolini.
Schafer was pleased with his team’s effort against a tough opponent, and he commended his players for insuring victory by playing hard toward the end of the game.
“We are trying to improve as a hockey team, and guys were trying to make good composed plays,” Schafer said, “and RPI was doing a good job of finding the passing lanes through the neutral zone and through our zone.
“Instead of skating with the puck, we tried to spread our feet and stand still and try to pass all the time. I thought we came out in the third and started getting our skating legs back together and get going up and down the ice a little bit to put some more pressure on them.”
The victory over RPI moves Cornell to 2-0 in ECAC play, and 4-0 overall. The Engineers fall to 1-1 in the conference (2-4 overall).
When asked about the keys to his team’s continued success, Schafer discussed depth.
“There’s no weakness in our four lines as far as defense is concerned,” he noted. “I have full confidence in our last line, or the fourth line, if people can even figure out who our fourth line is. Everyone can contribute. Everyone plays a different style on all four lines, and we have full confidence in all those guys.”
The Big Red will have their depth tested next weekend when they hit the road for games against Harvard and Brown. RPI’s next game is on Saturday, Nov. 17 against Mercyhurst.