COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a matter of who could finish.
Even though Ohio State outplayed Cornell in the Big Red’s first D-I game of the new season, Cornell buried its limited chances to lift the Big Red over the Scarlet and Gray, 3-1.
“It was a great win for us,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “I’m really proud of my guys. We’ve had 12 practices. We knew we had to win ugly, and that’s what we did tonight. We kept things pretty simple … and grinded out a defensive win.”
Sophomore Mike Knoepfli had the second-period game winner and an empty-net goal. Chris Abbott scored his first collegiate goal with his tally in the first period for Cornell, and R.J. Umberger had Ohio State’s only marker.
David LeNeveu made 28 saves, some of them brilliant, as the Buckeyes outshot the Big Red, 29-13.
“Our defensive corps played very well today, keeping the rebounds away from the net, allowed me to see the puck clearly and that’s all I ask from the team,” said LeNeveu. “I’m just trying to do my job to help our team to win.”
OSU head coach John Markell said that goaltending was the difference in this game.
“We did a lot of things right. We generated enough chances to score goals; they just didn’t go in today.”
The Big Red looked a little sluggish in the first, as OSU outshot Cornell 8-4, but the visitors picked up the pace in the second, the period during which they took the lead and took the body — delivering punishing checks to the Buckeye players.
The score was tied 1-1 at the end of one on Abbott’s and Umberger’s goals. At 3:51, Shane Palahicky rifled a cross-slot pass to Abbott, right to left, and Abbott beat OSU netminder Mike Betz low on the short side for Cornell’s first lead of the game.
Umberger tied it up at 7:58, lifting a pass from Dan Knapp up and over LeNeveu near the right post on the power play.
Knoepfli’s game winner at 17:15 in the second was Cornell’s third chance to score on the same play. Betz stopped Ryan Vesce’s initial shot from the crease, the rebound came back to Vesce’s stick, and he shot up and over the OSU cage. Three OSU players tried to clear from behind the Buckeye net, but Vesce centered the puck for Knoepfli, who put it in top-shelf over a prone Betz.
“This victory was huge for us,” said Schafer. “I think Ohio State is going to be a top 15 team in the country, and we haven’t played a game but we’re ranked seventh. That’s a coach’s worst nightmare. So we knew that people around the country were going to look at this game and judge us on this game … so we knew we had to come and try to play solid.
“We didn’t play perfect, but we did play solid.”
The Cornell faithful showed in force, demonstrating to Ohio State fans just what a cheering section should do during a hockey game. The Big Red crowd, a mix of fans who traveled from Ithaca and Lynah alumni, brought “Sieve!” signs and newspapers, and chanted in a manner that should be familiar to anyone who’s attended a game in Michigan’s Yost Arena — Wolverine fans lifted the Lynah cheers years ago.
Cornell (1-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) begins its ECAC season at home against Yale and Princeton next Friday and Saturday, while the Buckeyes (3-2-1, 1-0-1 CCHA) host another ECAC foe, Colgate, Sunday, Nov. 3.