ITHACA, N.Y. — Less than five minutes away from a textbook double-shutout weekend, one that would get it back to .500 at home and back in the mix for first place in the ECAC, Cornell was stunned by two goals in a 2:26 span as Dartmouth defeated the Big Red, 2-1, on Saturday night.
For as much of a disappointment as it was for Cornell, it was that huge for Dartmouth, which was coming off a tough loss to Colgate on Friday.
“I thought we took a big step tonight. We battled,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, noting the youth of his team and how it overcame adversity on the road. “I thought Colgate played really well last night, so I don’t want to take anything away from them, but I thought our guys didn’t quite have the energy [Friday] as they had tonight.”
Goals have been hard to come by, for both teams, in Cornell games lately, and Saturday was no exception. The teams, jockeying for playoff positioning, played solid, patient games, and it showed on the scoreboard with a scoreless game through two periods.
“Whenever you play Cornell, there’s so many scrums in the corners,” said Gaudet. “We play that way quite a bit too, but they play it well, and I thought our guys really battled with them.”
Cornell finally broke through on the scoreboard after Mike Knoepfli tracked down a puck in the corner and fed Dan Glover at the left point. Glover’s shot hit teammate Mitch Carefoot in the back, and landed behind Carefoot, who reached back and lifted a backhander past Dartmouth goalie Dan Yacey with 10:16 remaining.
But Dartmouth, which lost a similarly tight and low-scoring affair at Colgate, did not go home quietly, and again proved its mettle this season.
After regaining its footing and drawing a couple of offensive zone faceoffs, Nathan Szymanski won a draw back to Garrett Overlock. Overlock tossed a wrist shot on net that snuck past David McKee’s left skate, hit the inside of the post and went in with just under five minutes left.
That goal startled the Big Red, and Dartmouth kept attacking. Just 2:26 later, the Big Green took the lead when Szymanski sent a puck out in front that bounced off a mass of bodies, and was kicked away by McKee, but right to Jarrett Sampson, who knocked in the backhand.
“It was the kind of goals you get with breaks, where you don’t know who scores them,” said Gaudet. “There was white shirts and green shirts all over.
“We had to get something out of the weekend. And when they went up late on us, I didn’t see the guys get really deflated. They just kept playing. And it’s just the breaks of the game.”
What could have been a huge boost of a weekend, suddenly turned disappointing for Cornell.
“It was a case of the little things coming back to bite us. That’s what makes it such a disappointing loss,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer.
“For as well as we did last night getting it down the boards and getting it in, tonight we flipped the puck and it came back to us in transition, or we didn’t show the extra patience to gain the red line and get it deep, or a line change here, or faceoff coverage there … it’s cumulative things. This time of year, obviously that’s an area that we have to pay a lot of attention to. I don’t fault our guys for their effort, their will to win — Dartmouth has a good hockey team. I was just disappointed to come out with a loss tonight.”
Dartmouth played without injured veteran defenseman Brian Van Abel, leaving it with two freshman, three sophomores, and a junior, John Ostapyk.
“They really moved the puck well tonight,” said Gaudet. “Sean played a great game, and the veteran out there is John Ostapyk. The six of them as a group played well, and our forwards did a good job coming back.”
In the last five Cornell games, a total of 12 goals have been scored, five by the Big Red. They are 1-3-1 in that span. The losses, their only three in ECAC play so far this season, are all to teams they are battling for the Top 4 spots in the standings — Dartmouth, Brown and RPI. And it doesn’t get easier for the Big Red. They now face Colgate — the other of the five teams battling for the Top 4 — in a home-and-home next weekend, followed by Dartmouth again.
“The 10 games down the stretch are obviously going to be pretty significant, and it will be a dogfight throughout the league for playoff positioning,” Schafer said. “We played with more enthusiasm, more passion and more heart this weekend than we have in a while, now we have to match that with eliminating the mental mistakes in order to take that next step.”