ITHACA, N.Y. — The last time the Clarkson Golden Knights skated off Lynah Rink, they were headed to Albany after stunning favored Cornell in the first round of the 2004 ECACHL playoffs. Friday night, in front of a national television audience on CSTV, the No. 8 Big Red were determined to come out on top.
Grit and a raucous sellout crowd, the 58th consecutive home sellout for Cornell, helped the Big Red to a 4-2 win despite the efforts of a persistent Clarkson team in the third period.
As has often been the case this season, Cornell (14-4-2, 10-2-1 ECACHL) took advantage of a power play to get its offense rolling.
Just under six minutes into the second period of a physical contest, with the Big Red on the man advantage, junior forward Daniel Pegoraro fed the puck from the corner boards to the top of the crease, where freshman forward Raymond Sawada was waiting. Sawada knocked the puck past defenseless Clarkson goaltender Kyle McNulty to give Cornell the 1-0 lead.
“We were just working it down low on the power play, and Pegs was fortunate enough to fire it across to me,” said Sawada, a second-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars. “I shot it, deflected it, and it hit the goalie’s shoulder and went in. That first goal really sparked us.”
The unrelenting Big Red added to their lead less than four minutes later, when last week’s ECACHL Rookie of the Week Topher Scott and senior captain Mike Knoepfli created a partial two-on-one down low. Scott took the initial shot, but McNulty left an appetizing rebound for Knoepfli, who fired the puck into the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season.
“That was all my linemates’ hard work,” said a modest Knoepfli. “Bitzy got [the puck] out, and Topher brought it down and made a great play. I just went to the net with my stick on the ice, so it was all my teammates.”
All season long, the second period has been Cornell’s strongest. The Big Red have scored 33 goals this season during the second period while scoring 33 in the first and third periods combined.
“Our game plan is to wear [our opponents] down,” said forward Matt Moulson. “You try and play as physical as possible in the first, and I think that pays off in the second and third, especially with their defense taking a lot of hits.”
“We worked hard [in the second period],” added Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “We came out and played with a little better execution, a little better mental awareness, and it paid dividends for us.”
Late in the second period, freshman defenseman Doug Krantz scored for the second week in a row to give Cornell a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead. Seemingly
Clarkson cut the Cornell lead to 3-2 after goals freshmen Steve Zalewski and David Cayer. Zalewski beat Cornell netminder David McKee with a wrist shot over his left shoulder during a 4-on-3 power play early in the third. Less than five minutes later, Cayer showed impressive hand-eye coordination in knocking the puck out of midair during a 2-on-1 and into the back of the net.
“I was happy with our effort tonight,” said Clarkson head coach George Roll. “In the second period, we had a couple breakdowns defensively, and they took advantage of it. I was proud of our guys’ effort in the third period. We came back and made it a one-goal game. Once we got that first goal, our guys started believing a little bit.”
Much of the postgame discussion centered on Cornell’s attitude on the bench after the Golden Knights began their comeback.
“It was a wakeup call,” said Moulson. “We eased up a bit, and you can’t do that in this league. Once they scored those two, we realized we had to shut them down and keep playing our game: keep it low and keep it in the corners.”
“We had to regroup and make sure we were staying above our guys and committing to defense first,” added senior defenseman Charlie Cook.
With just over two minutes left, Moulson put the game away, beating a Clarkson defender and then sneaking the puck through McNulty’s pads for the 4-2 lead and final score.
“It was a good [pass] by Pegs on the board,” said Moulson, who now has a five-game scoring streak. “I picked it up and took a couple sticks to the head by [Clarkson's] bench. I didn’t really see it go in. I took a slash in the face just as I shot it.”
“It was a tough-fought game,” added Schafer. “We competed really hard. Give [Clarkson] credit for battling back. They have some really good players. I thought our guys stuck with it, and as soon as the score went 3-2, I thought we did a better job of clamping down.”
With the win, Cornell, which hosts St. Lawrence on Saturday night, improves to a perfect 10-0-0 record at Lynah Rink this season.
“It’s always nice to win at home no matter who you’re playing,” said Knoepfli, “but because of what happened last year at home, we were really determined to come out and, right off the bat, put our best performance on the ice.”
Meanwhile, Clarkson (7-16-2, 3-9-1 ECACHL) has lost four of its last five going into a contest at No. 9 Colgate Saturday night.