HANOVER, N.H. — Sometimes all a team needs is a break.
Sometimes it’s fortunate enough to get it.
Such was the case tonight for the Dartmouth Big Green (4-4-0, 3-3-0 ECACHL), which battled to a critical 2-1 overtime victory over the Cornell Big Red (4-2-2, 2-1-1) on the strength of Eric Przepiorka’s first goal of the season.
It was the Big Green’s first win in an extra session since defeating Boston College on November 26, 2002.
“We bent down the stretch,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, “but we didn’t break.
“This was huge for us. We’ve been battling and made some adjustments. We’ve had breaks go against this year, but to force a break and score tonight was huge.”
As one would expect, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer had a different opinion.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We played well in the second and third period, but made some young mistakes in overtime.”
Each team was playing without key contributors. Dartmouth’s David Jones was out with the flu, while Cornell’s leading scorer Matt Moulson was sitting a game disqualification from the night before against Vermont and Mitch Carefoot went down against Michigan State.
Dartmouth drew first blood in the opening frame when it converted on the power play. Junior Mike Ouellette found captain Lee Stempniak with a pass at the top of the left circle. Stempniak released a quick wrist shot that beat Cornell’s David McKee at 16:47 for his third tally of the season. The Big Green is now 4-0-0 when Stempniak registers a point.
The Big Red, meanwhile, was unable to take advantage of three power plays in the first 10:49 of the game.
Cornell turned up the pressure in the second period, but was denied on numerous 2-on-1 breaks by saves by Dan Yacey and sliding blocks by the Dartmouth defense.
“We need to execute,” said Schafer. “When we have that many offensive chances, we have no one to look at but ourselves.”
“They play their game really well,” said Gaudet, “but there were some good saves by Yacey. He really shut the door. He’s been like a starting pitcher this year who doesn’t get any run support.”
Cornell’s persistence paid off, however, at 13:20 of the middle frame when junior Chris Abbott scored his third goal of the season.
Sophomore Mark McCutcheon led the offense into the Big Green zone, but his shot was forced wide. The puck hit the end boards and bounced out to the right side of the net where Yacey poked it out to the right circle. Unfortunately for the netminder, a wide-open Abbott was there waiting. He picked up the puck, took a stride to his left and wristed a shot over the stick of Yacey and into the net.
The teams then settled back into the tight checking style that highlighted the first period. A scoreless and penalty-free third stanza followed, although Cornell nearly ended the game in the last minute of play when both Cam Abbott and Daniel Pegoraro were stoned by Yacey while standing in the slot.
What followed was an overtime filled with Dartmouth opportunities and the Big Green finally connected on its third shot at 1:26.
Przepiorka snagged a pass at the Cornell blueline and skated down the right side. His initial shot hit the right post, but when the rebound came back out to him, he was able to slide the puck behind McKee for the winner.
“I made eye contact with Grant [Lewis],” explained Przepiorka, “and he made a great pass through two guys. This was really big. We’ve played well, but the bounces have not gone our way.
“The adjustments [to playing without Hugh Jessiman] have gone all right and we’re getting used to playing with new guys, but we’ve had a little trouble scoring.”
For Schafer, it wasn’t about the break that Dartmouth had, but rather the errors his club made.
“We made four mistakes on the winning goal,” he explained while referencing a bad line change and the inability to push the puck out of the defensive zone.
“It’s not often you make that many mistakes on one goal,” he continued. “It was uncharacteristic of our team.”
Cornell ended the night 0-4 on the power play, while Dartmouth was 1-3. McKee finished with 29 saves to Yacey’s 23.