KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Cornell junior forward Ryan Vesce showed why he’s one of the nation’s best forwards by tallying twice, including the game-winner 1:30 into overtime, to help the No. 7 Big Red rally from a 2-0 deficit and defeat Western Michigan 3-2 in an overtime thriller.
Vesce ripped the heart out of the Lawson Ice Arena faithful by deflecting a shot from freshman forward Matt Moulson past WMU sophomore goaltender Mike Mantua in the extra period to complete a weekend sweep for Cornell. With it, Cornell overcame two bad giveaways in the first period that led to Western’s only goals.
“I was very pleased with the way our guys never stopped working,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “The work ethic issue was the problem last night, and I told our guys that I can tolerate mistakes like we made tonight, but I can’t accept not working hard for a full 60 minutes.
“It’s the first time we have really faced some adversity. Turning the puck over in the first period is not the type of way you want to start a game against a team like WMU. Give them some credit: with the turnovers we had, they really capitalized on them.”
WMU head coach Jim Culhane was obviously disappointed in the outcome.
“We played extremely hard through the 60 minutes and overtime and it’s unfortunate, with the effort tonight, to not get a win or tie. I think the team deserved better than a loss. I think our work ethic was there, our willingness to compete was very solid and similar to the way we played last night in the second period; we were able to do that for the entire game tonight.
“I feel we can play with anybody; we proved that again tonight. But we have to do that on a consistent basis, not just one night a weekend.”
After taking an early 3-0 lead in the first 6:21 of Friday’s contest, the Big Red found themselves down by multiple tallies at the end of the first period Saturday, thanks to the Broncos cashing in on Cornell defensive miscues. Freshman forward Brent Walton tallied his third shorthanded goal of the season by keeping the puck on a two-on-one rush and depositing it over Cornell sophomore netminder Dave LeNeveu glove-side with a slapshot at 4:49 of the first period.
The Cornell attack that seemed to score at will, Friday, was held without an official shot for the first 10 minutes of the game. The WMU offense took the play to the Big Red, and junior forward Paul Davies put WMU up 2-0 at 15:20 of the first period by taking advantage of a Cornell turnover in the defensive zone and beating LeNeveu from the left circle.
But Cornell started to slowly chip away at the Bronco lead with tough play deep in the offensive zone following the first intermission. Vesce tapped in a rebound off a shot from senior forward Stephen Baby early in the second period at 1:49 to cut the WMU lead in half.
Cornell junior defenseman Ben Wallace’s timing for his first goal of the season couldn’t have been better. After sustained pressure in the WMU defensive zone, the London, Ont., native put a wrister between Mantua’s pads at 12:11 of the third period to kill the raucous crowd of 2,958 and tie the contest at two goals each.
The Big Red took the momentum from the Wallace goal and took the play to WMU in the extra frame. Vesce’s tally at 1:30 of overtime helped Cornell win its 10th game in 11 contests to start the season, while also extending their winning streak to six games.
“Baby broke the puck out,” said Vesce, “and I was yelling at Moulson to drive wide. He drove the net, sent it across, and I was lucky to get a stick on it.”
Saturday’s defeat was more bitter than Friday’s loss to WMU junior forward Paul Davies.
“Last night was kind of embarrassing because we didn’t come out to play and they took it to us pretty good,” Davies said. “I think tonight is a little harder to take because if we give this effort nine times out of 10, we’re usually going to come out with a win, but unfortunately, we didn’t get one tonight.”
Culhane had pointed words for his squad following the contest.
Said Culhane, “I told the team afterward, ‘Nothing I can say right now can help with how you feel in your gut. With that said, I want you to think about this here during exams: Where was that (effort) last night?’ It took us 20 minutes in the first period of standing around and watching this Cornell team compete; we bury ourselves 3-0 and we come back after the timeout and play better, but that’s the one thing, where was the execution last night?
“I think we played well throughout the entire hockey game against an NCAA-tournament team from last year that won a tournament game; a team that, in my opinion, will go on to win the ECAC and make some damage in the NCAAs. They have a heck of a team and unfortunately for us, this hurts.”
Cornell has won all seven lifetime meetings against WMU.
Mantua finished with 18 saves in defeat.
The Big Red (10-1-0) don’t play again until Dec. 28 when they take on Maine in the Everblades College Classic. WMU (7-9-1) also has an extended break until its next contest where it travels to play Colorado College, Dec. 20.