PROVIDENCE, R.I. — No. 1 Cornell may not have been thrilled about drawing 14th-seeded Minnesota State in the first round, but on the ice it didn’t matter.
The Big Red rode three power-play goals and its customary suffocating defense to grind down the Mavericks, 5-2 in the first round of the NCAA East Regional on Saturday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.
“I said early in the week that I was not pleased with our draw,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “But that is all I said about it. … The game went as planned from our standpoint. We talked about wearing them down in the defensive zone. When they fatigued and took some penalties, we capitalized.”
After MSU tied the game, 2-2 at 3:26 of the second period, Cornell asserted itself. It physically dominated the Mavericks, outshooting them 18-3 and took a 3-2 lead on a power-play goal by Shane Hynes. Hynes parked himself in front of the net and tipped a shovel shot by freshman Matt Moulson to reclaim the lead for the Big Red.
MSU goaltender Jon Volp made 17 saves in the middle period, but his play went for naught as his team, wearied by Cornell’s hard work along the boards and tough forecheck, conceded two goals in the third period to put the game out of reach.
“They play so well defensively,”said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting. “They were smart, big, and handled the puck well along the wall. I was a bit surprised at how well they handled the puck down low. They don’t let you get to the net for second shots.”
The Big Red rolled four lines through the game and it received key contributions from two unlikely sources. Hynes, a freshman who had just nine goals all season, scored two power-play goals.
Sophomore Mike Knoepfli, with a mere six goals this year, had a pair as well, including a tally at 6:42 of the third period. He knocked down a floater by defenseman Charlie Cook and uncorked the full windup in the slot to make the contest 4-2.
“The strength of our team is our four lines,” Knoepfli said. “Our game plan is not necessarily for the first 10 minutes. It is meant for the whole game and in the third period we really pick it up and our conditioning kicks in.”
Minnesota State prided itself on its ability to come back, boasting a 6-9-1 record when trailing after two periods. However, the Mavericks took four penalties in the final period — nine altogether — and Cornell iced the contest at 10:34 when Sam Paolini, the hero of the ECAC championship, buried one at 10:34.
Penalties were an Achilles heel for MSU all season, which led the WCHA in penalty minutes. The Big Red took full advantage of the Mavericks’ undisciplined play.
“We’ve been working on the power play in practice,” Hynes said. “We want to get the puck in the zone, work it around, and get it on net. One goal I just set a big screen in front of the net, the other was on a three-on-two.”
Cornell jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, with goals by Knoepfli at 1:53 and Hynes finished a three-on-two power-play rush at 9:07 of the first period. After faltering during the first 10 minutes, MSU tightened up and started to generate some offensive chances of its own, putting the Big Red on its heels a bit during the later stages of the first.
Dana Sorensen broke the ice at 10: 12 of the first period, finishing a textbook two-on-one feed from Grant Stevenson. At the top of the second, period, Brock Becker tied the game, surprising Cornell goaltender David LeNeveu with a little move out of the corner to wrap the puck inside the far post.
“We battle back,” said Minnesota State junior forward Shane Joseph. “We’re proud of that, as well as our character. We didn’t quit when we got down.”
LeNeveu was rarely tested after the Becker goal and finished the game with 18 saves. Volp had 32. Joseph conceded that there was little his team could do after tying the game.
“They are a good defensive team,” he said. “They pin you back, hold you up well against the wall and are a physical team. We couldn’t get anything going in our end. I give credit to them.”
After the loss, Minnesota State took solace in the progress the program has made in the seven years it has had Division I status.
“If someone asked if we were to finish second in the league and make it to the [NCAA] tournament, I wouldn’t believe it,” said Minnesota State senior forward B.J. Abel. “We lost three players from last year — significant players — we’ve proven people wrong, pulled the team together, and got things done.”
The Big Red on the other hand, was pleased to display its offensive capabilities
“People think that as a defensive team, we sit back and trap,” Schafer said. “I can’t stand that style of hockey. We’ve done a good job convincing our players that if you are going to be good offensively, then you better play good defensive or you won’t have much time with the puck.
“Everyone thinks we are big and slow,” he added. “Let them think that.”
Cornell will play the winner of Boston College-Ohio State at noon on Sunday in the East Regional final.