ITHACA, N.Y. — It may not have been the win the giant killers have become accustomed to, but for Mercyhurst, it might as well have been one.
Already with nonleague wins at Ohio State and Western Michigan this season — Atlantic Hockey’s only nonleague wins against ‘Big 4′ teams — the Lakers notched another on their belt Saturday, scoring with 5.5 seconds left in regulation to force a 3-3 tie with Cornell at Lynah Rink.
“We gave ourself a chance,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “We love to win, and we would’ve loved to win tonight, but to come into a building like this, against a team like Cornell, in this atmosphere, that tie feels awful lot like a win right now.”
The loss left the Big Red (3-2-4) winless in their five nonleague games at Lynah Rink this season, 0-2-3, a place where they went 15-0 a year ago.
“We expected these games to be difficult, but obviously coming into Lynah Rink, had you asked me if we expected to be 0-2-3 in our own rink, I’d have thought you were crazy,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “But at the same time, if we don’t capitalize on our own chances, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing, it’s going to be a long night. … We have to do one of two things: either stop giving up any chances at all or start to capitalize. And it has to be combination of both of them going into next weekend.”
In what’s become a familiar story for the Big Red, the tie came despite Cornell outshooting Mercyhurst, 47-20, including 5-2 in overtime.
“The frustration continues to build,” said Schafer. “We’re disappointed with the fact that every single mistake that seems to happen, the puck ends up in the back of our net. From that standpoint, it’s tough to have the puck a lot and miss the net a lot, and not capitalize, and then as soon as you make a mistake, it’s in the back of your net. There’s no question that this is a frustrated hockey team right now.”
Cornell took a 3-2 lead at 8:17 of the third, when Cam Abbott jammed wraparound between the legs of Lakers goalie Andy Franck. But as Cornell continued to control the third, to the tune of 15 shots, Franck held it at a one-goal deficit.
After Cornell took an icing with 35 seconds left, the puck didn’t leave the Big Red zone again until Mercyhurst had tied it. The goal came after a point shot by Jamie Hunt was blocked, and after two whacks at rebounds that were blocked by forwards in the crease, Scott Reynolds finally banged it in.
“The bottom line was, we had six and they five [players on the ice],” said Gotkin. “We just had to throw it to the net and get to the net. Our biggest concern with Cornell is, they’re so big and strong and disciplined that you weren’t going to be able to attack their net. And we didn’t have a lot of chance to attack the net, but when we did, we either created an opportunity or we were rewarded with a goal.”
After a non-descript first period, Jon Gleed scored his first career goal 1:22 into the second, as stood in the slot and swept a backhander past a screened Franck.
Again, Cornell controlled the rest of the period, but a power play for Mercyhurst (5-4-1) gave it some life, and it took advantage on a wrister by defenseman T.J. Kemp.
“Franck gave us a chance in goal, and our special teams again was big, in the sense that we killed penalties and we were able to capitalize on a really opportune time on the power play,” Gotkin said. “And we made some plays when we had to.
“This has been our M.O. We’ve hung around and had a chance to win, and we didn’t win, but we think this is a great tie.”
Hunt made a great move off a faceoff to cut in front and roll a backhander past Cornell goalie David McKee. That was Hunt’s first career goal and gave Mercyhurst a 2-1 lead early in the third.
“He’s gonna be a great player for us. He gets a ton of responsibility as a freshman. He’s got poise, he’s got character, he works his tail off,” Gotkin said.
Byron Bitz tied it for Cornell with a power move to the middle from the boards, fending off a defender while rolling a long backhander along the ice and past Franck.
Both teams get back to league play next week. Mercyhurst has road games at Quinnipiac and American International, while Cornell has its first home league games, against first-place Brown and archrival Harvard.
For Cornell, it will be a matter of combating the frustration that’s set in.
“It’s tough. We’ve done that the last couple games at home,” said Bitz. “We’ve dominated teams, but end up losing or trying the game in the last minute. We just have to bounce back and learn how to close games like that.
“It’s just not bearing down on the puck and bearing down when we should. Mental errors are costing us big time right now.”