ITHACA, N.Y. — Having just one win at Lynah Rink with one week left in January is not just unusual, it’s practically unprecedented. Considering the 6-1-1 record away from home, Cornell knew just a few adjustments could turn things around.
It was back to basics for the Big Red on Friday, and as a result, they came away with a 2-0 victory over Vermont, improving to 2-3-5 at home. Both home wins have come by shutout, as freshman goalie David McKee made 17 stops for his fourth blanking of the season.
“We were getting away from our system at home,” said Cornell captain Ryan Vesce. “I don’t know why. We seem to go on the road, keep it simple, then we come home and turn into a fancy team, and that’s not us.”
Cornell earned the win without head coach Mike Schafer, serving a one-game suspension for a profanity-laden outburst against ECAC officiating last weekend. Assistant coaches Scott Garrow and Brent Brekke ran the bench.
“It was different,” Vesce said. “[Schafer] brings a lot of intensity and enthusiasm, but our assistant coaches did a tremendous job. They were right on the mark with their adjustments between periods.”
The Big Red started a stretch of five straight home games, seven points behind first-place Brown with five games in hand. But after the first two of those games last weekend, Cornell picked up one point. Further, in its last three games, it had scored just two goals.
That changed quickly, as Cornell scored on a 4-on-3 power play midway through the first period. Matt Moulson scored his team-high 12th goal of the season, picking a corner over the left shoulder of Vermont goalie Travis Russell.
A few minutes later, after a series of power plays ended, Cornell made it 2-0. Byron Bitz forced a turnover at the offensive blue line, tracked down a loose puck on the right-wing boards, and fired a cross-ice strike to Vesce at the left-wing circle. Vesce then popped a shot in the same place as Moulson’s went, breaking a lengthy personal scoring drought for his seventh of the season.
“I was going there even if I didn’t see Matt’s shot, but his shot was a gorgeous goal,” said Vesce.
The most excitement came on a non-goal. Cornell defenseman Charlie Cook came out of the penalty box as the puck was fired to center ice. He grabbed it and went in on net, and was taken down, resulting in a penalty shot. On the attempt, Cook made a nice backhand move, but was robbed by Russell, who reached his stick behind him and knocked the puck out of the air with his blade.
“It was the loudest I’ve heard the place in a while,” Cook said. “I went down, gave him my best move, went backhand, and tried to go upstairs with it. I don’t know how it didn’t go in. … I guess I’d rather have it batted out of the air than along the ice.”
Garrow thought he had it.
“We have showdown every Thursday [in practice] and Charlie scores a lot on that move,” Garrow said. “He had him beat.”
Vermont had just five shots in the third period and finished with just 17 as Cornell closed out the shutout.
“I was pleased with our competitiveness in the second two periods,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I thought we handled the physical play. We got a little undisciplined. I thought we played a little timid in the first period, we looked like we were a little scared out there.”
The kind of stifling defense Cornell played Friday reminded a lot of people of last season, when the Big Red allowed a staggering 14 goals in 15 home games.
“There was a certain style of play we had to get back to, that Cornell is used to, and the guys were rewarded for the work they put in,” Garrow said.
“We talked about getting pucks deep, and not turning pucks over in the neutral zone. And once we got our hands on it in the offensive zone, not getting in trouble by throwing pucks back blind towards our own end. And that’s really where the defense started, keeping control in the offensive zone.”
Referee Alex Dell seemed to take Schafer’s criticism to heart, calling numerous hit from behind and roughing penalties.
But neither team could convert, with Cornell going just 1-for-7 and Vermont 0-for-6.
“I thought Cornell played a fantastic game. We couldn’t get any offense generated,” Sneddon said. “Their penalty kill did the job, we didn’t get many looks at all.”
Meanwhile, Garrow said things went well without Schafer, but it will be good to have him back.
“There was some new responsibilities from my end. I had to change the forward lines and pay a little more attention to that,” Garrow said. “But we talked throughout the week about what Mike likes to do with the line matchups, and I just tried to stick with the game plan.
“It was fun, you get a little more into the games.”
Cornell played without Shane Hynes, who suffered a dislocated shoulder last week on one of the plays Schafer was upset about. Defenseman Ben Wallace returned to the lineup after wrist surgery.