ESTERO, Fla. — Northern Michigan’s hard-earned, double-overtime 4-3 win over Cornell began and ended with Bryce Cockburn.
After the 17 scoreless and largely uneventful opening minutes of the contest, Cockburn broke the 0-0 tie with his first goal of the game, and after 29:17 without a score in overtime, Cockburn’s second tally gave the Wildcats the win.
Chad Theuer had a goal and two helpers for the Wildcats, while Sam Paolini registered a goal and an assist for the Big Red. Craig Kowalski made 45 saves as Cornell outshot Northern Michigan 48-41.
“I think early in the game they overpowered us, really,” said NMU head coach Rick Comley. “Their size and their energy — they were very physical against us, and we were really on our heels. They were outshooting us badly at one time.”
In fact, the Big Red outgunned the Wildcats 17-9 in the first period, a span in which Cornell earned seven shots on goal in one power play alone — five by Doug Murray and two by Stephen Baby. The play of Kowalski and a stellar performance on the penalty kill by Jimmy Jackson kept Northern in the hunt until Cockburn’s goal sparked the Wildcats.
Northern never trailed in the game, but the Wildcats’ first two leads were very brief. Cockburn gave Northern a 1-0 lead at 17:38 on an odd-man rush that began with a heads-up play by Connolly in the Wildcat end, where the defender thwarted a Cornell rush by intercepting a pass. After Connolly shot the puck up to Chad Theuer in the neutral zone, Theuer flew up the left wing and waited for Cockburn to race up right, creating the two-on-one. Crashing into the left circle, Theuer passed right to Cockburn, who put it cleanly past Underhill without missing a stride to make it 1-0.
When Jackson was sent to the penalty box for slashing 55 seconds later, Cornell wasted little time in answering Cockburn’s goal. At 18:44, Paolini popped the puck over Kowalski as the Big Red swarmed the Northern net, and the first period ended 1-1.
The question-and-answer session continued in the second period when the teams exchanged goals within a minute’s span. This time it was the Wildcats buzzing around Cornell’s cage, and Dan Donnette lifted the puck over Big Red netminder Matt Underhill at 5:49.
At 6:38, the Big Red returned the favor when David Kozier backhanded it up and over Kowalski from the right of the crease, knotting the game 2-2.
Later in the second, Theuer stole the puck along the boards near the right circle in his own zone and took it coast to coast, skating in alone on Underhill and drawing the netminder left while waiting for his chance. Skating through the slot and past the net, Theuer backhanded it by the sprawling goaltender to put the Wildcats up 3-2 at 12:47.
A contested goal tied the game for Cornell at 11:26 in the third. On the power play, Mark McRae’s blast from the right circle was thought at first to ricochet off the crossbar and out of harm’s way. The green light was lit and the referee waved off the goal, but after a conference with the goal judge the officials ruled a goal had been scored, making the score 3-3.
“All I know is that I didn’t see a goal light and the referee waved it off,” said Comley. “It happened so fast that I just don’t know.”
The first overtime saw a lot of back-and-forth action with few good scoring chances. Cockburn’s goal at 9:17 came after Underhill made a glove save on Theuer’s initial shot from the slot. The puck popped up into the air and back over Underhill to the right corner, where Theuer skated into retrieve it, centering it for Cockburn. Cockburn’s shot went in top-shelf.
“We got better as the game went on and played our best in the third period,” said Comley. “I think we wore them down as the game went on.”
In spite of being outgunned overall, the Wildcats outshot the Big Red 12-7 in the third and 10-8 in the first overtime.
“I thought we were pretty sharp the first period,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, who added that the arena was “hot and muggy.”
“If someone would have capitalized on the chances that occurred earlier on,” Schafer added, “the game would have been over earlier.”
Cornell went 2-for-4 on the power play while Northern Michigan was 0-for-2. Underhill had 37 saves in the contest to Kowalski’s 45.
“The big thing for us is that Craig [Kowalski] has really struggled the last couple of games, and so he bounced back for us,” Comley said. “Jackson’s confidence is back — a lot of people played well for us. It was a very good game.”
Northern Michigan (10-6-1) meets the winner of the Maine-Ohio State contest in the title game of the second annual Everblades College Classic Tournament at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Cornell (8-3-1) will play the loser of Saturday’s second game in the consolation at 4 p.m.