ITHACA, N.Y. — Exhibition games are there to shake off some rust, get the freshmen acclimated to the college game, tinker with some line combinations, and avoid injuries.
On all counts, Cornell’s 9-1 win over Canadian school York University at Lynah Rink on Sunday was a success. All, that is, except the last one.
Highly-regarded freshman Matt Moulson was the victim of a brutal knee-on-knee hit from York’s John Eminger in the third period. Moulson left the game, severely limping off the ice.
After the game, it appeared Moulson had suffered “only” a relatively mild sprain, but there was no definitive word as No. 8 Cornell approaches an important season-opening matchup against Ohio State next Friday.
“If it was pro hockey, we’d probably still be here,” quipped Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “But it’s not pro hockey, it’s college hockey. And obviously everybody on our bench would love to have retribution for something like that — it could be a career-ending injury — and hockey has always protected itself by making sure that doesn’t happpen. But in college hockey, you live by the honor. There’s just no place in the game for knee hits like that.”
Sam Paolini did try some retribution, and did get a five-minute penalty for elbowing and 10-minute misconduct. But luckily for him, he did not get a game disqualification. Eminger received five minutes for the newly-instituted clipping penalty, and a game DQ.
Meanwhile, at least a couple of guys who got clobbered when caught skating with thier head down, came away unscathed.
“Our guys are still making moves they’d make in practice, and they paid the price for making those moves,” Schafer said. “It’s good to get game ready, because what works in practice and what works in a game is two totally different things.
Cornell dominated every aspect of the game, outshooting York, 40-16. Though it was difficult to gauge given the level of competition, the Big Red appeared to have little to no rust, especially on its vaunted special teams. Cornell had a four-on-four and five power-play goals, and was 6-for-6 in killing penalties.
The Cornell freshmen fit in right away, as well. Shane Hynes, another highly-regarded recruit, had a goal and an assist, twin brothers Cam and Chris Abbott also each scored, and Daniel Pegoraro had two assists.
The Big Red got things off with a bang, as Ryan Vesce made a nifty drag move to set up defenseman Jeremy Downs sneaking down the slot, just 39 seconds into the game. Downs’ goal was one of five scored by defensemen, and none were by the Hobey finalist Murray, as the Big Red showed off what has the makings of an un-Cornell-like potent backline.
Two of the goals came from sophomore Charlie Cook, who didn’t score all last season until netting two in the ECAC tournament semifinal against RPI. Mark McRae added one on a pretty move during a 4-on-4, and Ben Wallace got into the act, picking the corner on a slapper from the left-wing circle.
“We’ve always wanted transition, guys that get up and down the ice,” said Schafer, “and Charlie and Jeremy do that. And we’ve encouraged our defenseman from day one. Mark McRae and Doug Murray always get the recogition, but I think that’s where people are going to see the improvement [in us], in guys like [Downs and Cook] contributing offensively … just because they’re both such great skaters, and both great in transition.
“And I was very impressed with our forwards for how they used those guys, and rewarding them for jumping in the play.”
Hynes’ first goal pinballed off his shoulder and in. Luckily for the 6-foot-3 forward, it doesn’t count in the NCAA records and he still has a chance to make his first official goal a prettier one.
“The first game, I’ll take any goal,” said Hynes.
Another player the Red are expecting a lot from after an injury-plague freshman season, Mike Knoepfli, added three assists. Sam Paolini had the other goal, a patented power-play deflection.
Without much time to prepare for Ohio State — which has already played five games (3-1-1) — Schafer has to hope the players got the most out of this tuneup. Because the Ivy League schools get so few non-league games, facing the Buckeyes takes on definite significance for NCAA implications, something that can’t be dismissed just because it’s the first game of Cornell’s season.
“It’s the cards we’ve been dealt, we’re at an Ivy League institution,” Schafer said. “We’re two weeks behind and that’s what we have to deal with. But for us, we need to play well to maintain our [ranking].
“It’s unfortuante, it really puts us under the gun to go out there and have one game before our league starts to prove ourselves across the country with 10 practices under our belts. That’s a tall order. But I think you saw tonight, goaltending and special teams will be solid as we approach Ohio State.”