ITHACA, N.Y. — On Saturday night, while RPI was engaged in its game of the year against Clarkson, Cornell was hosting a “Big Red Freakout” of its own against the Yale Bulldogs.
Ultimately, the result of the game came down to one final surge, one rush, one shot, and one goal. Cornell and Yale were deadlocked, 2-2, with less than 30 seconds to go in the game when Big Red defender Doug Murray gained possession of the puck at his own blue line.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd and his teammates, Murray made his way up the boards past center ice, fighting off several checks along the way. From there, he dished the puck to Sam Paolini. Paolini continued along the boards into the offensive zone, and then cut toward the goal despite several defensive slashes along the way. When he reached the slot, Paolini let go a wrist shot that hit Bulldog goaltender Dan Lombard, but carried past him into the net.
Following the goal, Lynah’s sellout crowd cheered with the enthusiasm usually reserved for games against Harvard. Indeed, the fans weren’t the only ones.
“A tie just wasn’t enough for us tonight,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “A great play by Doug Murray and Sam Paolini. Just a great effort to get the game-winning goal.”
Until Paolini beat Lombard in the waning seconds, it seemed like the game was destined to head for overtime. While Cornell was clearly the better of the two teams on the ice, Yale’s skaters played their hearts out, using superior team speed and crafty forechecking to counter-attack the Big Red’s ability to maintain possession for long stretches.
The Bulldogs made their few offensive opportunities on the night count, as they managed to fight back from two one-goal deficits to tie it up before Paolini sealed the deal.
“Yale played very, very well; give them a lot of credit tonight,” said Schafer. “I thought they played with a lot of heart, played very physical, and did a great job. They’re a much better hockey game than their record shows.”
“They’re one of the best-coached teams in the league, so it’s always going to be a dogfight against them.”
After the first period saw neither team break onto the scoreboard, the Big Red got going quickly in the second. At 6:16, Cornell took advantage of a power play when Murray and Ryan Vesce set up Mark McRae for the first goal of the game. Both teams played well for the rest of the period, but neither managed to score again until early in the third, when Yale responded with a power-play goal of its own.
Following a defensive turnover by Cornell’s man-down unit a few minutes into the final stanza, Yalie Jeff Dwyer gained possession within the offensive zone. Across the ice, Dwyer saw teammate Ryan Steeves streaking unhindered toward goaltender David LeNeveu’s far post. Steeves had little difficulty one-timing Dwyer’s pass to beat LeNeveu, tying the game 1-1.
Less than two minutes later, however, Cornell bounced back, as team captain and Atlanta Thrashers prospect Stephen Baby beat Lombard from close range to regain the lead.
Mike Klema knotted the game at 2-2 for the Bulldogs a few minutes later. Klema’s goal was the result of a costly Doug Murray turnover deep in his own zone halfway through the final period.
“We made a couple uncharacteristic mistakes for our hockey team to make, and we talked about it after the game,” said Schafer. “Over the course of a long season you’re going to have nights where you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s what the game’s all about.
“We had a one-nothing game well in hand, and then we make a mental blunder on our penalty kill, where we give up an opportunity. And then we make another mental blunder to give up another scoring chance.”
With their victory and Clarkson’s concurrent loss to Rensselaer, the Big Red have gained a seven-point lead over second-place Harvard in the ECAC standings. Meanwhile, Yale’s loss drops it to 11th place in the standings, one point outside of a playoff berth.