ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell has been a dominant defensive force the past couple of seasons. The Big Red play an aggressive defense, and are particularly adept at blocking shots and closing off the shooting and passing lanes.
Saturday night at Lynah Rink, Rensselaer defeated 10th-ranked Cornell at its own game. The Engineers were the ones frustrating the Big Red offense. Goalie Nathan Marsters made 22 saves, and the defense blocked 16 shots in their 2-0 ECAC victory.
“RPI blocked a lot of shots,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “Nathan was there when we did get them through. Going into the game, we knew we had to beat him upstairs, and we threw it downstairs on him. Give them a lot of credit, they played a hell of a hockey game, and I told our guys before the game, I thought they were one of the best teams in the ECAC.”
The win moved the Engineers (12-9-2, 7-4-1 ECAC) into second place in the league standings. They are four points behind first-place Brown.
There were two other significant milestones. The victory ended RPI’s seven-game losing streak against Cornell, which eliminated the Engineers in last year’s ECAC tournament quarterfinals. It’s also the first time the Big Red (5-2-3, 7-4-6) have been shut out at home since Feb. 28, 1998, when Union’s Trevor Koenig blanked them, 1-0.
“The ‘D’ played unbelievably tonight,” said Marsters, who earned his second shutout of the season. “They didn’t give them much five-on-five, blocking shots all over the ice. On the PKs [penalty kills], those are big guys in front of me, and I can’t see much. They were blocking a lot, and clearing them away and tying them up. You’ve got to credit everything to those guys.”
Blake Pickett was one of defensemen sacrificing his body to block shots in front of Marsters, especially during seven Cornell power plays.
“If it keeps [the puck] out of the net and gets them into the corners, I’ll get hit as many times as it takes,” Pickett said. “It was a real good team effort out there. We played solid defense all night.”
It was the kind of effort RPI coach Dan Fridgen wanted to see after his team’s 3-1 loss Friday at Colgate.
“It’s a huge win,” Fridgen said. “I thought we did a great job of getting the puck low, keeping it simple and getting it out when we needed to get it out, because they can live off the pressure that they put on you on the forecheck. That’s how they survive.
“It just goes to show that you have to pay the price if you’re going to beat good, good teams. Cornell’s a good team, and we were willing to pay the price tonight. I said it [Friday] night that we had some wasted talented out on the ice. Tonight, we didn’t waste anything.”
Both of RPI’s goals came on the power play. Scott Basiuk scored on a four-on-three at 12:23 of the second period, blasting a slap shot from the right circle past goalie David McKee.
Oren Eizenman got the other one on a two-man advantage at 7:52 of the third period. He ripped a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle past McKee’s glove.
“We were just moving the puck,” Basiuk said. “Oren had a beautiful goal.”
Notebook: Brad Farynuk assisted on both goals. … RPI’s last win against Cornell was March 2, 2001, a 2-1 triumph at Lynah. … The last time RPI blanked Cornell was in Game 2 of the first round of the 1998 ECAC tournament. The Engineers won, 3-0, behind Joel Laing. … McKee made 26 saves.
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.