ITHACA, N.Y. — After 54 days without a game at Lynah Rink, there was truly no place like home for Cornell.
Using more of their trademark defense to suffocate Clarkson, the Big Red chipped away for a 3-0 win Friday night. Dave LeNeveu needed just 16 saves for his fifth shutout of the season.
A physical game throughout got chippy towards the end with things well in Cornell’s favor. Numerous scuffles broke out in the third, culminating at the final whistle with a few punches thrown on each side. Cornell’s Mike Iggulden and Clarkson’s Dale Good each received game disqualification penalties, and will sit out Saturday’s contests.
“There were situations at the end that led up to it, but there’s not much you can do about it,” said Clarkson interim coach Fred Parker.
With all the anticipation of returning home after nearly two months of road games, the No. 4 Big Red (15-3-0, 10-1-0 ECAC) were surprisingly tentative in the first period, and the usually boisterous Lynah Rink crowd was relatively subdued.
“It was great being back,” said Cornell forward Matt Moulson. “Maybe a couple guys were nervous being back. It was like the first game all over again. But afer the first couple shifts, we started playng our game. We had a couple giveaways, but after that we started to flow.”
After being outshot 5-4 in a scoreless first period, Cornell poured it on in the second, outshooting the Golden Knights 17-4.
Cornell broke through during its second 5-on-3 chance of the night. Clarkson goalie Mike Walsh was unable to control Charlie Cook’s shot from the point into his chest, and Mike Knoepfli pounced on the rebound.
Walsh was otherwise flawless, and if not for his play, Clarkson would have been long out of the game. As it was, the Golden Knights thought they had tied it, when a shot from the right wing boards went over LeNeveu’s left shoulder, hit the crossbar, and landed behind him. The Clarkson fan contingent sitting right along that goal line all thought it went in, but LeNeveu reached behind him and grabbed the fluttering puck, as referee Jeff Fulton waved it off.
“I don’t know if that goal was in or not,” Parker said. “A lot of people behind the net thought it was in. That could have turned the game around right there.”
In the third, Cornell allowed seven shots, but none were anywhere close to the net.
“They’re pretty tough to get inside on, and that’s what we expected,” said Parker. “We knew when we had a chance, we’d have to take advantage of it, but we didn’t do that.”
“They’re a very disciplined team, a very structured team,” said Clarkson captain Kevin O’Flaherty. “Once you fall behind it’s a real uphill battle coming back against them, and they have a lot of guys with a lot of experience who know how to win tight games.”
Meanwhile, Cornell got an insurance goal midway through the period, as Ryan Vesce won an offensive-zone faceoff, Ben Wallace slid the puck towards the net, and Matt Moulson redirected it in.
“Benny came down the side, and I saw he was coming down,” Moulson said, “so I slipped in front of the net and he did a good job getting it on net, and I just got my stick on it.”
During a 4-on-4, the Big Red added another goal, started by a nice defensive play. Two Clarkson players converged on a loose puck in the left-wing corner, only to have Cornell defenseman Doug Murray line them both up. Using a technique that an offensive lineman could love to check them both at the same time, Murray worked the puck free and got it ahead for Vesce on a 3-on-2 break. Vesce found Cook on a drop-pass in the slot, and Cook buried it.
That’s when things started to get really feisty, which didn’t surprise anyone.
“Whenever Cornell and us play against each other, it’s usually a pretty tight game and emotions run high,” said O’Flaherty. “And it was nothing different tonight.”
“They play us tough every game,” Moulson said. “They’re a tough team. It was kind of like two teams that didn’t want to back down from each other. As long we stayed disciplined …”
Clarkson was 0-for-3 on the power play, but its penalty kill again kept it in the game, going 5-for-6 and allowing just a 5-on-3 goal.
“We’ve gotten a lot of penalties so we’ve gotten a lot of practice in game situations,” said O’Flaherty, the team’s top penalty killer. “But it’s been a strong point, and hopefully we can get our power play going a little better for the stretch run.”
The loss dropped Clarkson to .500 (5-5-1) at the halfway point of its league schedule, but Parker found a silver lining in two tough losses to Cornell.
“You take a lot out of that,” Parker said. “It’s their first game back in a long time. They were pretty pumped to play it and I thought we matched them on the intensity level.”