ITHACA, N.Y. — The U.S. National Under-18 Team got a taste of one of the best teams in the ECAC on Friday night, as the Cornell Big Red skated past them 4-0 in front of 3,836 fans at Lynah Rink.
Although Team USA was clearly outmatched and outsized, the exhibition game was closer than the score would suggest. In fact, both teams headed into the first intermission knotted at a scoreless tie. The Big Red managed to outshoot their opponents in the first period, but failed to capitalize on the opportunities they did have.
Team USA kept it close in the first by attacking Cornell’s composure. Through feisty but marginally clean play, the visitors drew four penalties of their hosts, all of which came within the second half of the period. However, despite a few breakdowns on the penalty kill, the Red managed to escape the first unscathed. Playing their prototypical brand of defensive hockey, Coach Mike Schafer’s team applied constant pressure to the National Team, keeping them from setting up their offense.
“I wasn’t very happy with our team after the first period. I just didn’t think we competed very hard,” said Schafer. “But, we ran into penalty problems in the first period, and killed them all off. It just kind of goes hand in hand with the rest of our play throughout the whole course of the first period. So, once we got that ironed out I thought we were a lot more aggressive, played a lot smarter. Special teams is always important.”
The second period saw the Big Red break the game open by taking advantage of their numerous offensive weapons. Junior winger Shane Palahicky scored the go-ahead goal for his team at the 12:30 mark. Palahicky was assisted by linemates David Kozier and Greg Hornby on the play, but Cornell defender Jeremy Downs also had a hand in creating the scoring opportunity. Following his teammates on a rush into the offensive zone, Downs uncharacteristically crashed the net. When Team USA realized that there were four Big Red attacking their net, not the usual three, they shifted their coverage, which allowed Palahicky and company to make their tally.
Doug Murray followed up toward the end of the period with the insurance goal for Cornell. Goaltender James Howard, who has recently signed on with the University of Maine for the 2002-03 season, didn’t stand much chance of stopping the big defenseman’s wrist shot.
From there, the U.S. skaters picked up their physical play in attempts to create scoring chances. This played right into the hands of Cornell, a team that is as adept at the rough stuff as anyone in college hockey. Nevertheless, the National Team didn’t back down from their aggressive strategy, and deserve praise for their efforts.
“You expect kids that are elite players to compete hard,” said Schafer of the opposition. “When people compete hard, they’re going to get involved in some altercations, and that’s just natural. If you’re not involved in those, you’re not competing hard enough. That’s good to see; there’s no question in my mind that they can compete with D-I teams.”
“It was great for Ithaca to see that Under-18 Team come here on campus, get a chance to see some of the upcoming stars of USA Hockey,” he added.
Mark McRae and Travis Bell sealed the deal for the Big Red by scoring the team’s third and fourth goals in the final period of play.
This exhibition win was Cornell’s final competitive contest of the fall semester. After a few weeks of studying, exams, and rest, the Big Red will next take to the ice in Estero, Florida, when they compete in the Everblades College Classic. Cornell’s first game of the tournament is slated for December 29th against nonconference foe Northern Michigan. Maine and Ohio State make up the other half of the draw.
“I think it’s going to be the best college hockey tournament in the country,” said Coach Schafer, looking ahead. “It doesn’t get any better than that field.”