ITHACA, N.Y. — The days of the classic Boston University-Cornell rivalry are long over, but with the two teams meeting for back-to-back games for the second straight season, each in the national rankings, it felt a lot like old times.
In fact, it was more like the really old times, in the late ’60s, when Cornell dominated the rivalry while winning two championships.
At least for one game.
Saturday afternoon at Lynah Rink, No. 7 Cornell scored three first-period goals, then used a classic suffocating defense down the stretch to win, 4-1.
No, the teams weren’t skating for ECAC tournament titles, or NCAA championships, but they are competing for possible positioning down the road, and the right to feel good about themselves. For one night, that right went to the Big Red.
“We’re at the point now where we’ve received that [national recognition],” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, “but it’s more important — we came into the weekend thinking about two wins. That’s our guys’ mentality. We split there [last year], now we have them on home ice and it’s our job to win both games. So we’re only halfway done here. And they’re a good team. I’m sure [BU] Coach [Jack] Parker will have his team ready to go.”
Cornell’s size and strength often dominates ECAC teams, but it wasn’t as simple against No. 11 BU, used to facing tough opponents on a nightly basis. Instead, Parker felt it was just a well-played, hardworking win for the Big Red.
“The name of the game was how hard Cornell played in their own zone,” said Parker. “They’re not real physical as far as banging the [heck] out of you. But they possess the pick pretty well because they’re tough and hard to push off the puck. Their effort has more to do with it than their size.”
Sam Paolini had a goal and two assists, and Doug Murray had three assists for the Big Red (7-1, 5-1 ECAC). Dave LeNeveu stopped 24 shots, and allowed just one controversial goal to lower his miniscule goals against average a little closer to 1.00.
“I reallly needed a breakout [game],” said Paolini. “I knew it was going to come. It’s just a matter of time. Things started clicking, the puck came my way a couple times. It was nice to get that off my back.”
Stephen Siwiec started in goal for the Terriers, just his second career start, and stopped 19 shots in the loss. It was BU’s first non-league loss of the season.
Up 3-1 entering the third period, Cornell allowed just seven shots, as BU was never able to mount sustained pressure or a consistent forecheck.
“We had the puck in their zone, but we didn’t generate enough offensively because they did so well down low,” Parker said. “I thought we’d have an easier time because usually we do a better job possessing the puck and getting to the net.”
Said Murray, “What we did better than them was picking up sticks in front. They’re a very good team at forcing the puck towards the net. A lot got thrown out the net, but not a lot of deflections and shots.”
BU (7-4-2, 4-3-0 HEA) started with two power plays in the game’s first five minutes. But with a 90-percent penalty kill entering the game, the Big Red were able to stifle the still-struggling Terriers attack.
“We’re not poised back there,” said Parker. “We have some guys who should be able to move the puck back there. We have a pretty good record considering we’re pretty ineffective on special teams.”
After killing off the power plays, Cornell soon got a couple of its own, and took advantage right away. A slap shot by Stephen Baby went off the right post and came right to Paolini, who held his ground and stuffed in the rebound.
“To start off having to kill four minutes against a team like that, it’s a tough way to start,” said Schafer. “I thought they had the momentum for three or four minutes after that, but our guys did a good job simplifying things and our power play jumpstarted us.”
Paolini then set up the next power-play goal just a few minutes later, finding Matt Moulson all alone at the top of the crease. Paolini, usually the man parked in front for tip-ins, has moved away from the net more often on recent power plays.
“When they take Doug [Murray] and Stephen [Baby] away, I have to pop out more and become more of a threat,” said Paolini, “and when I did that, they collapsed down on me and we were able to get it in front and get shots on net. I’m sure they’ll adjust tomorrow.”
Before the period was out, Paolini quickly helped make it 3-0 as the Big Red continued to pour it on. Paolini chipped it down the left wing, beat the defender to the puck, and set up Shane Hynes in front. Hynes again did a nice job standing his ground, and pumped the puck past Siwiec.
“Our coaching staff talked to us about that,” said Paolini. “They like to step up and they don’t like to give up the blue line. But if we just chip is past them and go in hard, they can be susceptible to 2-on-1s and stuff like that.”
Parker said the first power-play goal was a fortuitous bounce, but was not pleased about the other two Cornell scores.
“The other two goals were bad plays defensively,” said Parker. “One bad read and one bad cover. Nothing happened — then all of a sudden two goals. So you can’t make mistakes like that.”
BU got another two back-to-back power plays in the second period, and still hadn’t cashed in until Brian McConnell shot one into a wide-open cage with LeNeveu lying on the ice. It’s just about the only way anyone has gotten a puck past LeNeveu recently.
David VanderGulik had fallen on LeNeveu at the side of the net, and McConnell was able to wheel out with it and score before LeNeveu could scramble back in the cage. Referee Scott Hansen ruled that defenseman Mark McRae pushed VanderGulik into LeNeveu, and allowed the goal.
“Markie [McRae] said he didn’t touch him,” said LeNeveu. “His stick got caught between my pad and my leg and he pinned me down, laying on me. I thought the ref was going to take care of it, but he didn’t and life goes on. We came back and we smothered them and we got the win, and that’s all that counts.”
Cornell then hunkered down, and didn’t allow another power-play opportunity as it ground down the clock.
“Our guys did a great job getting right back at them,” Schafer said. “Their defensemen can really skate and I thought we did a great job getting in their face and causing turnovers.”
Said Murray, “They’re a skilled team, I think they’re better than their record shows. You have to keep it simple, not complicate the game, play hockey the way it’s supposed to be played, no turnovers and go after them.”
The two teams go at it again, Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.) at Lynah Rink.
Notes: This was BU’s first trip to Lynah since 1993-94. … Cornell is 19-1-1 at Lynah over the last two years, including 5-0 this season. All five wins have been by at least three goals, by a combined score of 23-5. … Charlie Cook sat out the second straight game for Cornell with an ankle injury.