ITHACA, N.Y. — The Niagara Purple Eagles put up a fight, but in the end the Big Red of Cornell escaped with a 2-1 victory Friday night at Lynah Rink.
The outcome came down to an evenly-played third period. Tied after the second intermission at 1-1, both teams minimized their mistakes in the final stanza, and it seemed that overtime was a distinct possibility until quite late in the contest.
At approximately the 17:00 mark, a failed regroup by Niagara left Cornell’s Krzysztof Wieckowski with the puck in the neutral zone. Surrounded by three opponents, Wieckowski took the burden of victory upon himself. With two cunning stickhandling maneuvers, he broke into the attacking zone. Niagara’s goaltender Rob Bonk, in excellent position, denied Wieckowski a good shooting angle. Wieckowski skated off to Bonk’s left-hand side of the goal, taking the only route the Purple Eagles’ goaltender ceded to him.
With nothing to shoot at but Bonk’s pads, and nowhere to go but into the boards behind the net, Wieckowski dropped a pass through traffic back to the middle of the slot and onto the stick of waiting linemate Mike Knoepfli. Being only a few feet from the open net, Knoepfli easily snapped in the game-winning goal.
“When guys want to win badly, sometimes guys start doing things by themselves, and don’t stick to the game plan,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “I sensed that a little bit tonight with our team, but at the same time a guy like Krzysztof Wieckowski, I thought, took matters into his own hands.
“I thought he played great, especially in the third period. I’m very proud of him the way he did things that we were asking, and drove wide, created the play. And Mike Knoepfli, who’s a goalscorer, just knows where to stop. He made no mistake.”
The Eagles went on to pull Bonk with just over a minute to go in the game in a last-ditch effort to tie the contest. But, good team defense by the Big Red was too much for the Eagles, who fell to 11-6-0 (4-2-0 CHA) with the loss.
Despite the ultimate result of the game, Niagara could not have been too displeased with the way it played. Slow to warm up, the Purple Eagles only managed one shot on goal in the first period. However, the middle frame was very different, as it saw Niagara pepper Cornell’s net with 12 shots on 20 attempts. At 13:20, their offensive efforts culminated in a goal for Rob Bumbaco who solved Cornell’s Matt Underhill with a high wrist shot.
Niagara also played well in the third period, controlling the momentum of the game for much of that final third of the game. Schafer was quite impressed by his team’s opponents, particularly their ability to stick to their plan throughout the contest.
“Obviously they executed their game plan to perfection. I thought that they moved the puck quickly out of their own zone,” remarked Schafer. “They’re the type of team that do what it’s going to take to win on the road. They played a very simple game, and they executed it very well. … They played very, very solid. They’re a good hockey team, and our guys are just very happy to get out of here with a 2-1 win tonight. Tip your hat to them; I thought they played very solid.”
Cornell played adequately throughout the game, but also took a while to get the offense into high gear. The Big Red managed 11 shots on goal in the first period, but didn’t have any great scoring opportunities until the second. Davis Kozier finally set the tone for Cornell when he scored on a dandy of a long-range shot about half way through the middle period.
With the win, Cornell improves to 8-2-1 (4-1-1 ECAC) for the season. On Saturday night they will face the U.S. National Under 18 squad in an exhibition game before taking a few weeks off from competitive play. Niagara’s next games are on December 14 and 15 against CHA foe Findlay.