ITHACA, N.Y. — The fact that half the rest of the nation’s big shots got bumped on one of the craziest Saturday’s in college hockey playoff history, did nothing to make the Cornell Big Red feel better as they let a chance to close out their series slip away.
Cornell never led, and Clarkson scored an early power-play goal in the third period to defeat the Big Red, 5-4, at Lynah Rink on Sunday night. It forces the first Game 3 playoff game at Lynah Rink since 1988 (actually a mini-game) — which just so happened to be a loss to Clarkson — and the first Game 3 of any kind for the Big Red since 1998, when they defeated RPI.
There were a lot of “first time in a whiles” for Cornell. The 18 shots Cornell allowed in the first period not only surpassed Clarkson’s shot total for all of Game 1, and for 11 entire games last season, but was the most allowed in a period since the 2001 ECAC tournament semifinal against Harvard; the three goals Cornell allowed in the first period was the first time that happened since the season opener against Western Michigan; the six combined first-period goals was the most in a Cornell game since Dec. 1, 2000; and, last but not least, Cornell’s 11 power-play opportunities were the most since Nov. 4, 2000 against Sacred Heart.
Meanwhile, Clarkson broke a six-game losing streak at Lynah Rink. It’s the first time Clarkson has been on the road in the playoffs since that same 1988 season when it won at Lynah.
“It was a huge win, a gutty effort,” said Clarkson coach George Roll. “[Friday] night we deserved to get beat. We put it on the line tonight. We fought through a lot of adversity in a tough place to play in.”
And the Golden Knights had another more dubious record snapped; freshman Matt Nickerson had 10 more penalty minutes to break the school single-season record set in 1985-86. He now has 165 for the season.
Obviously, special teams were a factor, and on that score, Cornell dearly missed senior center, and captain, Ryan Vesce on both ends of the ice. Vesce was a late scratch due to an undisclosed injury after he had skated in the pre-game warmup.
“He’s such a great leader, in the dressing room, and by example on the ice. But that’s still no excuse [for how we played],” said fellow Cornell captain Ben Wallace
The Big Red power play was 1-for-11, scoring a 5-on-3 goal, while Clarkson scored on two of its first three chances, and was 2-for-6 overall.
“It hurt, especially that we lost him in warmups,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer of Vesce. “When he couldn’t play it was a shock. It threw everything into a kilter.”
But Schafer didn’t use the loss of Vesce as an excuse.
“The power play has to execute,” he said. “We didn’t show enough poise in a big game. We didn’t have enough guys who wanted to puck in a big game.”
The first period was one of the wildest at Lynah Rink in a long time. Clarkson came out flying, off its 5-1 loss in Game 1, and took the lead just after a power play ended at 5:12. Nickerson’s floater from the right point went off the back of teammate Lyon Porter and in.
“We came out slow and there’s no excuse,” said Wallace.
Just seconds later, Cornell’s Shane Hynes busted down the wing, beat Michael Grenzy along the wall, made a beautiful move to the middle and put a backhander past Clarkson’s Dustin Traylen. But the goal was disallowed when referee John Murphy said there was a Big Red player in the crease. So, just seconds after that — :36 after the first goal — Clarkson took a 2-0 lead when Ken Scuderi put in his first of the year.
“The guys were really focused,” Roll said. “They got embarassed [Friday] night and get out-muscled and out-competed. They weren’t gonna let it happen tonight.”
They were just getting warmed up in the first, however. Cornell’s Mitch Carefoot scored a goal just following a power play at 9:50, but Clarkson got it right back 34 seconds later from Mac Faulkner to go up 3-1. Carefoot scored again at 13:07 off a faceoff play, his sixth of the season. The Big Red then drew a lengthy 5-on-3 power play late in the period when Nickerson was called for a slash as he came off the ice on a line change. It was his third penalty of the period. But just when Clarkson thought it survived with a huge penalty kill, Cornell got the equalizer when a rebound came to Mike Knoepfli in the right-wing circle, and he put in his fourth goal of the weekend.
Things calmed down in the second period, though Clarkson took the lead again at 5:05. Charlie Cook’s short-angle shot for Cornell went off Traylen’s stick and left a big rebound in front. But Wallace tried to come in from the point to play the fluttering puck, Chris Blight poked it past him and sprung Rob McFeeters for a 150-foot breakaway, which he deposited on a backhand, top shelf, over Cornell’s David McKee for a 4-3 lead. Cornell was also caught in a change on the play, and Schafer bemoaned the team’s lack of focus.
“They got the fourth goal on a bad line change. Then we had a too many men on the ice penalty,” Schafer said.
Nickerson again took a penalty while shorthanded to create a 5-on-3 late in the secnod, and this time Cornell took advantage. Wallace’s slapper found a hole and tied it at four. Eventually, Cornell would get another power play to carry over into the third, but at that point was 1-for-8. That’s when Clarkson finally got its third power-play of the game and got Sullivan’s goal to take the lead.
Cornell had three more power-play chances, including one in the closing minutes, that went for naught.
“The special teams was getting worn down,” Schafer said. “We’ve got to stay out of that kind of game and not get into a back and forth. We addressed it in the morning and it went that way [anyway].”
Said Roll, “With Ryan not playing tonight, I thought it made a big difference in their power play. We got stuck in the zone a couple times, but for the most part I was pleased with our penalty killing.”
The Big Red also had a great shorthanded opportunity, as Cam Abbott stripped a puck and came in alone, only to be denied by Traylen. Cornell has still not scored a shorthanded goal since the NCAA tournament in 2002, almost two full years ago.
“We didn’t play very well as a team,” Wallace said. “Don’t take anything away from them, they played hard. But we can play a lot better. We have to focus on what gave us success in the past.”