ITHACA, N.Y. — The weather outside was frightful, but inside Lynah Rink, the result for Cornell fans was delightful.
A night after scoring two power-play goals en route to a victory against Dartmouth, the No. 9 Big Red did exactly that again, then held off a determined Vermont team in the third period to secure a 2-1 victory.
The teams were locked in a defensive, physical battle until midway through the second period, when Cornell took advantage of a Vermont penalty, a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Freshman forward Topher Scott fed Cornell’s leading scorer Matt Moulson, who ripped a wicked wrist shot over goaltender Travis Russell’s left shoulder, with the puck catching a piece of the crossbar before dropping into the net. The goal was almost identical to the power-play goal Moulson scored Friday night against Dartmouth.
“Their defense dropped down and that’s the matchup we look for on that side,” said Moulson. “It worked out well, and the puck had eyes and found its way through there.”
“We probably gave Moulson a little bit too much room,” added Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon. “I’ll take the blame for that. We were worried about the low play, and our defenseman wasn’t out in the shooting lane when he needed to be, so it was our fault, as a coaching staff, giving Moulson so much room to shoot out there.”
Second-period goals and power-play goals are becoming Cornell’s specialties. Almost half of the Big Red’s goals this season (30 out of 63) have come during the second period. Also, the power play has been efficient, converting on 25.2% of its chances, good for second best in the nation.
“We seem to be on a roll [on the power play],” said Scott. “As soon as we get the puck, we get some pressure, we move it quick and give it to Moulson, and he does the rest. We’re working on all cylinders right now.”
Cornell’s first power play unit struck again at 6:45 of the third period. After freshman defenseman Sasha Pokulok sent the puck toward the net, the puck was deflected in front, where Byron Bitz slid it across the crease to a wide open Scott. Russell, making a rare start in place of Joe Fallon, was out of position, and Scott tapped the puck in to give Cornell a 2-0 lead.
It was the first third period goal scored by Cornell in its last eight games.
“Sasha made a nice play to get it to the net to Bitz,” said Scott. “He threw it in front, and I was just lucky enough to be there and had a nice open net to shove it in.”
In the first meeting this season between Cornell and Vermont, on November 19, Vermont rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to come away with a hard-fought 2-2 tie. Saturday night, the Catamounts seemed determined to accomplish the same feat again.
With less than eight minutes to go in the third period Saturday, Vermont freshman forward Torrey Mitchell, a San Jose Sharks draft pick, gave the Catamounts some hope by cutting the Cornell lead in half.
“One of their players was trying to clear it,” said Mitchell. “I intercepted the pass and one-timed it, just trying to get something going to the net. At that point of the game, shots were so important for us. It deflected off one of their guys and went up over [Cornell sophomore goaltender Dave McKee] and into the back of the net.”
Despite the goal, Cornell was determined that, this time around, there would be no comeback by the Catamounts.
“Our team really responded,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “The key was staying disciplined. I think we moved our feet really well on defense, kept our sticks down, and stayed away from grabbing their players. I didn’t think we gave them much offensively.”
The Big Red defense, anchored by McKee’s 22 saves, shut down the Vermont offense to hold on for a 2-1 win. Cornell has now allowed one goal or less in five consecutive games.
“It’s so hard to score on Cornell,” said Sneddon. “They do such a good job in their own zone, and obviously, McKee is a great goaltender. I thought the difference was, we took a couple untimely penalties. The penalty we took late when they went up 2-0 stung more than anything.”
“When we came back from a two-goal deficit in Vermont, we just kept doing the little things, and that’s what we were trying to do tonight,” added Mitchell. “We kept telling ourselves that we were going to get the bounces. We did get one bounce, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough in the end.”
With the win, Cornell (13-4-2, 9-2-1 ECACHL) now sits in second place in the league, trailing travel partner Colgate, which lost to Dartmouth on Saturday, by a point.
“At this time of year, all our games are critical,” said Schafer. “Vermont has a good defensive team. They don’t give up too many odd-man rushes, and I thought Russell played very well for them. They’re a tough team to play against, so it was a solid win for our guys.”
The Big Red now look ahead to next weekend, when they will host Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The game against Clarkson, the Friday night CSTV game of the week, will be the first meeting between the teams since Clarkson upset Cornell in the first round of the ECACHL playoffs last season.
“Last year, we struggled at home, and now we’re back to the home mentality. of playing hard and physical,” said Moulson. “Every game I’ve played against St. Lawrence and Clarkson has been a hard-fought game. It’s good to get our confidence up this weekend.”
Meanwhile, Vermont (13-9-2, 7-4-2 ECACHL) will look to rebound next weekend when Rensselaer and Union come to town. Despite two losses by the No. 14 Catamounts this weekend, Sneddon is able to take away some positives.
“We’re focused on the process right now,” said Sneddon. “Our kids played with a ton of heart tonight. We left everything out on the ice, and down the stretch drive, if we play that kind of hockey, we’re going to win some games.”
“I’m really proud of our guys for [their physical intensity]. Certainly, Cornell probably had the better of the hits, but tonight, with all the strength training and conditioning we’ve done, even our smaller guys were playing physical. We didn’t shy away from anything and played pretty tough hockey tonight.”