ITHACA, N.Y. — Shutouts are becoming routine for Cornell goaltender Dave LeNeveu.
Of course, it helps when your defense blocks almost as many shots as you do.
For the fifth time in six league games, Cornell held its opponent to 20 shots or less, and the offense scored four second-period goals en route to a 5-0 win over Brown at Lynah Rink on Saturday. And the defense that blocked 21 shots on Friday, was in top form again on Saturday, as the Big Red outshot Brown, 26-20.
“They had a lot of action around the net, but our guys once again blocked a huge amount of shots this weekend,” said LeNeveu, whose goals against average dipped to 1.14, second best in the nation behind Bemidji State’s Grady Hunt. “[When] they were in our end, our guys were able to get it down, and clear rebounds, and that’s all I can ask from them.
“If they’re able to block the shot and not screen me, and get the puck down the ice, it’s even better for me. As long as it’s not going through them and getting to me, they can block all the shots they want.”
With Cornell (6-1, 5-1 ECAC) getting complete games up and down the lineup, LeNeveu has three shutouts but only two No. 3 stars of the game to show for it.
“Our team is playing very well in front of me,” said LeNeveu. “It shows you how well we’re playing. That’s no problem with me, as long as we’re winning games, and they’re keeping the shots down. … That’s all I care about.”
After going 0-for-4 Friday against Harvard, and 0-for-3 in the first period Saturday, the usually-dominant Cornell power play awoke for three power-play goals the rest of the night. Meanwhile, after allowing two power-play goals Friday — the first two in ECAC play this season — the penalty killing stopped Brown on all six chances.
“Brown did a great job of killing in the first period,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “We had some chances. We got the puck down to the net, and it hit some people. … That’s one thing that’s really nice about that [top power play] unit, they figure things out. Brown did a great job on it, it just took a little bit of time.”
For Brown (4-3, 4-3), its power play, which led the league coming into the weekend, went 0-for-16 on the weekend. In fact, with the 3-0 loss to Colgate on Friday, the Bears were shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since the last weekend of the 1960-61 season, a year in which Brown was winless. Yann Danis, who started out the season with two shutouts of his own in the Brown net, took the loss.
It was Ryan Vesce who got things started for the Big Red with a power-play goal early in the second period, deflecting a blistering shot from Stephen Baby into the top corner of the net.
Though not getting a lot of chances, Brown was still composed and energetic through most of the rest of the second period, but as its frustration of a no-goal weekend mounted, the Big Red started to put the game away.
Mark McRae scored at 12:54, taking a clean faceoff win from Vesce, finding a seam, and delivering a shot past Danis.
“I had my head up and there was a lot of traffic in front of the net,” said McRae. “It was a clean draw back, and [my teammates] were holding up their men perfectly, and there was so much traffic in front of the net, I don’t even think [Danis] saw it.”
McRae scored again, on a power play, a few moments later on a similar play. Again Vesce won the faceoff, and again McRae found a spot through the bodies in front, this time deflecting off a defender and in. It was his team-leading fourth goal of the season.
“We’ve asked him this year [to] really step it up one more notch and get much more involved with the offense,” Schafer said of McRae. “He has so much skill. Doug [Murray] has overshadowed him, but they’re such different styles and Doug will wow the crowd, and Mark is much more silent with what he does.”
McRae has been No. 1 star in the last three Cornell wins.
“I started off and wasn’t really making passes or plays,” McRae said. “It just seemed one of those games where all of a suddden things just turned around, and everything I touched turned to gold. I’ve played better games technically, but it seemed like every shot I made went in, and every pass I made turned into something after a while.”
By this point, Cornell was all over the Bears, and before the period was out, Vesce added another for good measure, equaling McRae’s goal total. The puck bounced out from behind the net as the second period wound up, and landed gift-wrapped in front of Vesce, who one-timed it past Danis.
The third period got ugly, with several skirmishes, borderline punches, and accusations of cheap shots coming from both sides. The deterioration fully kicked in with just under five minutes left, when Cornell took exception to a high hit on Matt McRae. McRae was finishing a check on Paul Crosty at the left point, when Crosty got his stick up and hit McRae across the throat. Crosty was given a five-minute major for high sticking and a 10-minute misconduct, while McRae got two-and-10 on the retaliation.
“He doesn’t get that excited that often,” said Mark McRae, speaking for brother Matt. “That was a pretty big cheap shot. [Matt] can hardly talk right now because he got hit so hard in the neck there. There was a lot of cheap stuff going on out of frustration.
“They’re usually a clean team, very hard working. I think it was just some tension boiling over.”
Later, Brown’s Scott Ford was called for cross-checking Dan Pegoraro into the boards, leading to matching misconducts to him and Cornell’s Shane Hynes. But Ford got an extra two minutes, creating a 5-on-3.
With the two-man advantage, Paul Varteressian took advantage of some rare power-play time to score his first of the season.
Of the 13 forwards Cornell dressed for the game, all had already scored a goal this season, except Varteressian.
There were a couple more skirmishes in the closing minute, but luckily for both teams, no game disqualifications. Schafer and Brown coach Roger Grillo chatted after the game, and referee John Melanson instructed the two teams not to shake hands.
“[Grillo] was upset because he thought one of our kids kneed their kid, and I was upset because of the cross-check to the face of Matt McRae,” Schafer said.
“My style is, if you want revenge, come hit me. Come hit me straight up, shoulder to shoulder, come to my face, but don’t cross-check me and don’t hit me from behind. And that’s what I was disappointed with.
“But I just cleared the air with Roger after the game. We have to, as coaches, continue to respect each other. And if one of my kids kneed him, I’ll punish him and I’ll take care of it, and he said he’d take care of his kids. And I thought the referee should’ve taken care of everything.”
With Travis Bell and Charlie Cook out of the game nursing injuries, the Big Red dressed just five defenseman, including heretofore little-used freshman Jon Gleed. But Gleed was impressive, and Schafer took notice.
“He played very, very well. A lot of our younger guys played well this weekend,” Schafer said.
Cornell has a couple of pivotal nonleague home games with Boston University next weekend.